Two days ago, Fiji Water‘s only production plant announced that it was shutting its doors, following a significant bottled water tax raise by the country’s military ruler. (There was talk of sourcing the water somewhere other than in Fiji, but then it wouldn’t really be “Fiji Water,” anymore, would it?) The announcement saddened many here in the U.S., as Fiji water is probably the most popular brand of premium bottled water on the market. I’m sure advocates of bottled water were saddened. Workers of the plant wept openly at their job loss. But those of us who maintain that bottled water is an unnecessary and expensive commodity that’s helping to destroy our planet were perhaps more saddened by today’s news: The Fiji plant will reopen tomorrow. They have decided that the tax (15 cents per liter – up from only one-third of a cent per liter) is payable. The Fijian government’s total annual tax-take is expected to raise from F$500,000 to F$22.6 million.
But why don’t we consumer-obsessed Americans take our eyes off of ourselves for just one second to think about why the Fiji Water company is willing to dish out such a ridiculous amount of money to remain in production?
It’s now well-known that the success of bottled water in our nation is largely due to clever marketing tactics, most of which, sadly, we are gullible enough to fall for. Fiji is the most popular premium bottled water brand because it is well-advertised. Now, I know most of you Fiji lovers would say that it tastes different. But that idea just takes me back to a time when I was over at a friend’s house, drinking cold water which he had poured from the tap into a wine glass; I looked up at this friend, after a few sips, and said, “mmm… this water is really good! Is it Fiji?!?” And that, folks, was the day I stopped buying bottled Fiji water. I realized, at that point, that I had been tricked into believing that this Fiji-sourced artesian water was really better than what I could get at home for the price I already pay when I receive my monthly water bill.
The exotic factor is Fiji Water’s highest selling point. After all, who wouldn’t want to drink water that is bottled from an underground artesian aquifer in Fiji and never touches 21st century polluted United States industrial air until a consumer unscrews the cap? Fiji water is willing to remain in production, regardless of the tax, because they have done the math. They know that consumers will pay for it, and they know that they will still make a significant profit. Staying open, for them, is better than shutting down. It was a smart business decision.
But I can’t help but feel sorry for the people in Fiji, as well as those in other developing nations. We have access to clean water straight from the tap, along with filters that purify it even further by reducing the presence of chemical disinfectants; yet we choose to drink bottled water, simply because it comes from an underground aquifer in an exotic country, and we are gullible enough to believe that it really tastes that much better and is worth the price of $3-4 per liter (plus the extra $0.15 the company will probably now add to the cost to cover the tax). Moreover, we haven’t given a single thought to the fact that those in Fiji, not to mention those in Haiti, Indonesia, Africa and other developing nations, have to hike miles a day just to get access to dirty water that will probably either kill them or make them unbearably sick. Nor have we given thought to how much water and oil are wasted in the production, transport and disposal of this convenient luxury – a luxury that many others don’t have.
Now you may be thinking that bottled water has often been the saving grace for those in underdeveloped countries. But, giving them bottled water is like putting a band-aid on cancer. There are better, more permanent solutions, like helping these countries build a stable clean water infrastructure and teaching them how to manage it long-term.
The message is simple: think twice before you buy that next bottle of water, as it may only further contribute to the suffering of those less fortunate.