“There’s a sucker born every minute,” said P.T. Barnum, by which he meant that anyone can be convinced of just about anything, given the right circumstances and persuasive sales pitch.
There’s no better example of just how right Barnum was than America’s thirst for bottled water. It’s a commodity that is almost free in the Western world, as most folks have access to a supply for a nominal charge simply by turning on their kitchen taps.
But instead, many Americans have become convinced that purchasing water, in individual servings or economy size, is somehow a smarter, more nutritious choice. And yet there is virtually no difference between what comes from the taps and what’s sold in bottles, except the latter forces us to shell out several bucks for the privilege of consuming it.
That’s not to say that some folks should choose tap water simply because it’s economical. In rural areas of America, in particular, tap water isn’t put through the same rigorous testing procedures for impurities.
And in some cases, if a factory or other environmental pollutant has contaminated water at its source, buying bottled water is most definitely the wiser, safer option.
But for most of America, bottled water is a choice, not a necessity. Unless one lives in Flint, Michigan, the source of the tainted water scandal a few years back and the subject of much international media scrutiny, drinking from the tap is just fine. It’s just not trendy.
And yet, a recent Gallup poll discovered that more than 60 percent of Americans believe, or fear, that their tap water is not safe to drink. For the most part, however, it is; the choice of bottled over tap is more fashion than health necessity.
But that fashion doesn’t come cheap; on average, bottled water costs around $1.22 (USD) per gallon. According to recent estimates, Americans are guzzling almost 13 billion gallons of bottled water every year.
They’re consuming more of it than they are beer, or even milk. Water has even begun to outpace soda as America’s drink of choice, finally.
It’s good, of course, that sugary pop is lagging slightly behind water as the nation’s premiere drink; pop is nutritionally empty but full of calories. But the question remains: why are Americans so convinced their tap water is bad for them? It’s all in the marketing.
Bottled water became a common sight in everyone’s hand when the fitness craze took off in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Every man was running a half marathon and every woman was taking an aerobics class, thanks to the advent of fitness clubs and classes led by influencers like actress Jane Fonda.
Soon, every participant had an individual bottle they toted everywhere. But that’s not when bottled water first appeared on the market; that happened several centuries previously. The first evidence of a case being sold was in the 1760s, in Boston, when it was marketed for its “therapeutic” value.
Therapeutic benefits may be debatable, but certainly water is the soundest nutritional choice, whether from a tap or a bottle. The latter, however, comes at considerable cost to the environment, and it may be time to question the wisdom of purchasing it in single serving sizes.
The oceans are filled with plastic that does damage to all marine life, as fish become trapped in vast masses of plastic that people toss away rather than recycle. Estimates suggest that only one of every six of the single serving plastic bottles make it to a recycling centre; most end of in the trash, according to the National Geographic Society.
There is certainly a disconnect, if not downright hypocrisy, in choosing bottled water for its health benefits and tossing the container into the garbage, where it ultimately makes it way to the sea and destroys the ocean’s health.
After all, mankind cannot sustain itself without healthy oceans, but that point seems to get lost in all the hyperbole and noise surrounding bottled water.
And every bottle of water is expensive to produce. Manufacturing plants need raw materials to fill those bottles, and that creates waste, causing further damage to the environment. It’s a vicious circle.
Perhaps we need to rethink our choice of drink next time we tote something to the office to have with lunch, or grab during the day in lieu of a sugary soda.
Not the water – that’s the right choice – but where it comes from, how its packaged, and what we do with the container afterwards. There’s a lot more at stake than simply our thirst; we have the next generation, and the planet, to think about.