It baffles me that bottled water still exist. I’m not talking about the reusable water bottles, of course. I’m referring to the little crinkly plastic bastards, the sort that accompany school lunches, are distributed at picnics, sit peacefully in vending machines, like an introvert feeling lost at a fructose-filled, high-energy party. How the hell did corporations actually get away with the privatization of water, an essential ingredient for life?
Bottled water is unnecessary in most part of the United States, plain and simple. There are several countries where drinking public water, oftentimes also called tap water, can be considered dangerous. Of course, it is difficult to objectively dichotomize certain forms of water as “dangerous” and others as “safe.” As such, the CDC has created a useful guide for travelers to know which countries have safe water, and which do not. This is in a legitimate effort to prevent illnesses such as diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid, and cholera.
However, if we are to take the CDC’s warning at face value and understand that certain countries have “unsafe” water while others have “safe” water, we are presented with a situation, one that will not affect the target audience of the handy guide, but a far larger demographic. This does not only apply to American travelers, obviously. It is important to note the countries and regions where there is no safe tap water, ask questions of why there isn’t, and begin pushing for change.
Safe water, so to speak, appears to map on with those countries with are often considered “developed” and which have primarily white-majority populations, for the most part. As such, the CDC considers no countries in all of Africa to have safe tap water. In Asia, the only countries with safe water include Brunei, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. The divide in Europe is very apparent as well, with the western half deemed to have safe tap water, whereas in contrast, countries on the eastern half do not. In North America, only Canada, Greenland, and the US have safe tap water. In Oceania, only Australia and New Zealand made the cut. And finally, no countries in South America have safe tap water.
Bottled water, thus becomes important in those regions or countries in which there is tap water that poses a health risk to the population. As such, bottled water slowly faced a decline with the rise of chlorinated public drinking water in the early twentieth century. In 1977, though, everything changed.
Perrier arrived on the scene, launching a $5-million campaign in the US, spreading fear of dirty pollutants and about the poorer quality of tap water when compared to imported bottled water. Dr. Francis H. Chapelle from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) perfectly captures the attitude of these consumers by explaining, “People like their water to be clean and stylish, preferably both.”
And that’s exactly what we’ve seen. The marketing scheme has become all too familiar, with pristine streams flowing through mountain ranges in freezing cold regions, painting a picture of some sort of mineralized, purified, artesian bottle of freshness.
Time and time again, people make futile attempts to justify their unnecessary purchases, with one of the most common reasons for buying bottled water being that it somehow tastes better. Despite this claim, taste tests have demonstrated over and over how this experiential difference, if one exists, is, at best, negligible. If there does appear to be a difference in taste, it is far more likely that the difference in taste may actually be a result of a placebo effect, especially given that two popular bottled water brands, Aquafina and Dasani, have both admitted to using tap water.
And if things couldn’t possibly get any worse, it seems as though “your bottled water is most likely sourced from some of the driest states in the country,” as presented by Mother Jones. And for pseudo-environmentalists who claim that they’re still doing the planet a favor by recycling these bottles, it’s important to remember that nearly 80% of bottled water bottles end up in landfills or are incinerated.
Despite the nonsensical nature of privatizing an essential component of life, something literally as fathomable as selling canisters of air as opposed to inhaling “public tap air,” there still doesn’t appear to be the push that we need to stop this ludicrous industry, one that is crushing animals, our planet, and only furthers the divide between those with and without adequate resources for survival.
So how do we change this? The problem of course isn’t drinking water. That is something we ought to be encouraging, especially in the face of the vast majority of similarly packaged beverages; however, the containers seem to be what has become an actual environmental hazard. The way I see it, we have two choices as responsible and conscientious individuals. Either we start eating our water bottles, or we remember that in a capitalist marketplace, the consumers have more leverage than they may imagine, and with a little personal protest of bottled water and a spreading of information, maybe we can start thinking of tap water, accessible to all, as something that ought to be cherished instead of dismissed in the face of luxurious nonsense.
This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine.