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Absurd Consumerism in a Bottle

“Are we good on water?”
“Yeah, we’re good.”

It was one of those conversations at the grocery store that seemed really strange to me. I wondered, How much bottled water do we consume every year? It always seemed odd to me that the US would consume so much bottled water when EPA regulated water from the tap may actually be cleaner than FDA regulated bottled water.

People in the US like to buy stuff. We like it right off the shelf with as little human to human interaction as possible. If we can own something tangible it’s a sort of symbol of how well off we are. The more a house can throw out, the more that family has the means to consume. Trash is almost like a status symbol. The more we dump, the more we have. Water from the tap is what people without the means to buy water over the shelf have to drink. It tastes bad. It’s not cold enough. Yuck. With water running freely from faucets and water fountains all over the country, we are obsessed with little plastic bottles full of the same stuff.

In 2010, total bottled water consumption increased to 8.75 billion gallons, which is an increase from 8.45 billion gallons in 2009, the association reported. In addition, per capita consumption also increased 2.6 percent in 2010. The data shows that every person in America drank an average of 28.3 gallons of bottled water last year (http://www.bevindustry.com).

Not only that, but there is a new product that adds flavor to plain bottled water to make it more like flavored water. Not only is tap water not good enough for the palate, but bottled water is now no longer good enough requiring a flavor or an energy shot. The environmental damage of bottled water is palpable:

27,000 to 1.3 million tons of plastic PET water bottles were produced in the U.S. in 2006, requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil. 76.5 percent of these bottles ended up in landfills (http://www.cleanair.org).

It’s an amazing fact of our existence. Fifty years ago if you had told someone we would sell water in bottles for the same cost as a Coke, they would laugh at you. In the 1980’s the dupe began with the appropriately name “Evian” which Spelled backwards is “Naive.” Now it’s a multimillion dollar industry. Seems like a waste and the effect on the environment makes tap water seem worth the switch right?

Consumerism does not like reason. Reason means living within our means and not requiring credit for anything. This irrationality blinds us from the realities others face worldwide. We don’t have a water shortage but buy it from massive supermarkets. Other countries would gladly enjoy tap water used for toilets and washing dishes.

The World Bank reports that 80 countries now have water shortages that threaten health and economies while 40 percent of the world — more than 2 billion people — have no access to clean water or sanitation. In this context, we cannot expect water conflicts to always be amenably resolved (http://ag.arizona.edu).

Add this together and bottled water is one of the most socially unethical products we can buy right now. How about keeping this in mind next time you go for that Aquafina or some other designer bottle of water. Get a reusable container for water to carry around. Get it from the tap or a water fountain. Simple solution to help reduce our contribution to a global epidemic.

About Andrew Tatusko

Secularization, critical pedagogy, sometimes agnostic, politics, and a ton of running. Penn State is definitely not responsible for what I say.


One thought on “Absurd Consumerism in a Bottle

  1. My husband fills me up a Coleman cooler with water from our well and sliced bulk lemons every day. It’s the best!

    Posted by juststormy | May 12, 2012, 11:00 PM

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