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Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

Thoughts from the International Bottled Water Association:

In a recent article on banning bottled water, Filters Fast presented both sides of the debate on whether or not bottled water should be banned in colleges and universities, listing five reasons for and against a bottled water ban. While Filters Fast advocates filtering tap water over purchasing bottled water, we believe that everyone should have the chance to express their views. Here, Tom Lauria, Vice President of Communications for the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), refutes the argument that bottled water should be banned.  On behalf of the IBWA, Lauria responds to each of the five points given on both sides of the debate, below.

Protect the Environment

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), plastic bottled water containers make-up one-third of one percent of the waste stream. This is a tiny sliver next to the thousands of other products packaged in plastic. Since bottled water is probably the healthiest packaged beverage a person can buy, does it even make sense to single-out bottled water in an age when obesity, heart disease and diabetes are growing as national health issues? Bottled water manufacturers have reduced the weight and density of their plastic bottles by 32 percent over 8 years. That's the equivalent of removing one out of three bottles from the waste stream. Plastic water bottles have the highest recycle rate of any single product packaged in plastic - 30.9%. That's still far too low but an improvement over the 20% rate from several years ago. As for the two Pacific gyres, the Atlantic gyre and the Indian ocean gyre -- please don't imply this is a bottled water issue; there are thousands of types of waste involved and the largest countries on Earth involved in its cause and clean-up.

Reduce Campus Beverage Costs

Buying bottled water by the case at a super-market or big-box store is how many consumers purchase this product. At Costco, a nationally known brand of spring water costs 13.4 cents per bottle. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), the cost of bottled water nationwide averaged $1.29 per gallon. Please direct me to a gas station that sells gasoline at that price. But even the comparison is invalid: people don't drink gasoline. Can you name a single packaged beverage that costs LESS than tap water? Neither natural spring or purified water comes out of a tap. People are entitled to spend their funds as they see fit. Some buy "Two-Buck Chuck" wine at Trader Joe's while others spend hundreds of dollars for a single bottle of a fine Bordeaux. In 2007, only the beer industry spent over $1 billion in advertising. Soft drinks spent over $600 million. In comparison, bottled water companies spent $52 million.  I think anti-bottled water activists find retailer vendors, such as an airport concession stand, that charge $2.00 or more per bottle and they erroneously multiple that price. Meanwhile, consumers like me are buying it in cases, not individually. 

Bolster the University's Image

Intolerance as a character trait seldom bolsters any person's and any school's reputation. Especially when what is not being tolerated is the healthy, safe, convenient consumption of refreshing bottled water.

Bottled Water is No Better than Tap

Here's a few facts relevant to this segment of comments. The EPA estimate for the percentage of purified bottled water from municipal sources is 40%, not 20% as stated in your debate. Single-serve plastic water bottles are made of PET plastic, not BPA. According to prominent environmentalist Peter H. Gleick, from the Pacific Institute, "PET is widely considered to be one of the safest forms of plastic for food packaging and few credible studies have ever claimed to find a risk of leeching."  IBWA strongly disagrees that tap water is better regulated than bottled water. Those two products are indeed regulated differently. However, federal law requires FDA's bottled water regulations to be as protective of the public health as EPA's standards for tap water. Bottled water, as a food product, comes in a sealed, sanitary container after processing while tap water moves through many miles of pipes after leaving the plant. They have to be regulated differently. And if tap water met every consumer's satisfaction, there certainly wouldn't be a market for water filters of any kind.

As a matter of law, the FDA has a zero-tolerance for E-coli. Ten years ago, IBWA's Code of Practice for members banned any presence of E-coli.  In addition to FDA and state regulations, IBWA's member companies are annually inspected by third-party experts from UL and NSF to ensure bottled water products remain safe.

Water is a Basic Human Right

"Water is already free," states someone is this debate. Then what the heck is this quarterly water bill from the city doing in my mail?  Water is not free; it is heavily subsidized by local, state and federal government because of its importance to society. Nonetheless, some consumers want access to natural spring water, disinfected only with natural ozonation, which preserves the delicate balance of minerals and thus gives the water a brisk, refreshing taste. Others want purified water. This consumer reasoning should not come as a surprise to filter companies. Besides, some consumers with compromised immune systems, or with cancer and other illnesses, can't drink tap water.

I end with a quote from this debate: "Those that fear water contaminants in city supplies, no longer have an excuse on a school campus where water fountains contain filters. Several schools have implemented effective reverse osmosis filtration systems, allowing students to fill reusable bottles at water fountains."  Harvard paid for their R/O filters and will keep on paying just to methodically change and maintain the fountains' R/O filters. Then there's the cost of Harvard's annual water bill.  I am familiar with a high-rise condo tower in northern Virginia with 322 units whose water bill in 2009 was over $148,000.  I can't even imagine what Harvard's is! I repeat, water is not free.   

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