It's really easy in the world of sustainable agriculture and food advocacy to forget about water. Water is an even more basic human need than food - we can go longer without food than water. Only 1% of the earth's water is drinkable, and there are increasing concerns about access to clean water worldwide. (See last week's post about the UNICEF Tap Project.)
Tapped is a documentary that looks at how the bottled water industry affects our water supply and what we as consumers can do differently to help to preserve the integrity of our water supply. The film was made in 2007, so I'd venture to guess that some of the statistics have changed over the last 7 years, but much of what they discuss seems to still be true today.
While lakes and rivers are part of the public trust, groundwater often falls under state laws that grant "absolute domain" - which allows anyone with a permit to take and use the groundwater as they see fit. This has led in many states to the bottled water industry coming in, filing for a permit, and then pumping millions of gallons of water out of rural areas and into plastic bottles for resale. In effect, taking the resources of a community and then selling them for their own profit with no benefits back to the community whatsoever. The examples shown in the documentary were from Maine and Poland Springs, a subsidiary of Nestle, which is the largest bottled water company in the world. (Coke and Pepsi being next in line.)
These communities often have companies pumping groundwater out of their land in the midst of horrible droughts, where their own sources dry up and people are placed on water restrictions. Efforts to fight companies doing that have been fruitless. There are no laws restricting what these companies can do to water supplies - they just show up and take it. Governments don't want to fight these companies because they employee many people throughout the country, in not just the extraction process but the bottling process, etc. So they choose to avoid job consequences over environmental consequences and leave the community and the pubic hanging.
This film does a good job of not just blaming the companies, but blaming us as consumers for buying into the ridiculous marketing hype surrounding bottled water. So many ads claim that their water is pure or comes from mountain springs (ever notice how many mountain graphics or the name 'springs' are on bottled water labels?). None of the water comes from mountain springs and some companies have been forced to put words like 'public water source' on their bottles.
Because what you're getting in that bottle? It's tap water. Tap water that's basically less regulated and less tested for quality than what comes out of your home's tap through your municipality (if you don't have your own well). While municipalities have to test their water multiple times daily, bottled water companies do their own tests at will, and aren't required to do any of them. So when you see a label on a bottle of water that says "pure" - it's no more pure than tap water and not filtered.
Once it's packaged and sold back to consumers, bottled water is 1900 times more expensive than the same amount of tap water. And it creates an inordinate amount of waste, since we as a nation are not good recyclers. (At least in 2007 we weren't!) We think of plastic bottles as disposable - that's what makes them so convenient. But they end up in the ocean gyres of garbage or in landfills, leeching plastic chemicals. The film goes into details about the pollution issues of plastic bottles and how they threaten marine life and ecosystems, as well as how the manufacture of the plastic bottles in the first place affects the people who live near the refineries, with many medical issues. (The film also was created before the public decided it didn't want BPA in its plastic anymore, hence the plethora of BPA-free plastic products out there now.)
The film makes a pretty compelling argument for why if you're environmentally conscious at all, you should be drinking tap water out of reusable bottles. (They encourage buying a water filter system of some kind - whether it's on the tap or a pitcher, etc.) It also is beneficial for its explanation of what kind of water is actually in these bottles and how it's no different than tap - I'm not a fan of hype and health washing in marketing, so it's nice to have confirmed that the water coming out of my water filter at home is probably more pure than anything I could buy in a plastic bottle.
I realized while watching the film that I already made this switch awhile ago. I use a Camelbak bottle that I love at work and at home - and I take it with me on the go to people's houses and on vacations, etc. I have found many places that have water bottle fill stations that don't cost anything. So while I do buy bottled water from time to time, it's not nearly as frequent. I have no idea when the last time was that I bought a case of bottles. I'd like to keep it that way.