My Water Bottle

This is one post in a series, describing what I've learned while attempting to understand my ecological footprint.

Bottled water consumption in the United states is a unnecessary scourge on our environment. I usually try to stay away from inflammatory statements, but a little reading and its hard to come to any other conclusion.

Articles like Charles Fishman's Message in a bottle (also see NPR's audio coverage [6 minutes], The Pacific Institutes Bottled Water and Energy A Fact Sheet, The Earth Policy Institute's BOTTLED WATER: Pouring Resources Down the Drain and several others explain the life-cycle and costs of bottled water as well as the psychology behind why we spend $15 billion a year and pollute our environment for something we can already get out of the tap with no added pollution or cost.

Those articles do a great job of ruling out taste, convenience, safety, and quality. So why do we drink bottled water? Great Marketing... Fortunately public opinion is beginning to shift.

How I Got Past Bottled Water Marketing

From 1999 to December 2006 I consumed an average of four 16.9 oz. bottles of water a day. Most of the time I walked by a kitchen sink to pull it out of the fridge, and many of those ended up half finished on the floor of my car.

In December I got to thinking that there was probably a substantial ecological impact as a result of getting that water, making the bottles, shipping them to me and then keeping them in giant refrigerators until I drank them. I didn't bother with the math. Water is heavy and Giant smelly diesel trucks driving it around were enough to get me thinking about the impact.

When I asked myself why I was drinking Bottled instead of Tap I experienced a strong emotional answer from my gut "Because tap water is bad and bottled is clean." To which my brain responded "That's silly! 'tap water is bad?', what does bad mean?" So I thought about it. I grew up on tap water and never got sick from it. It's common knowledge that the US has the best tap water in the world. And pretty soon I heard a voice in my head say "I do believe I've been brainwashed. All that bottled water is pure excess."

So I decided to switch to tap water. I'd keep the last water bottle I had, put my name on it and reuse it. I saved more than one just in case I lost a few.

The first time I refilled the bottle I found myself feeling concerned. Somewhere in the past 10 years I'd gone from drinking only tap water to having internalized the idea that tap water was going to hurt me. But I stuck with the tap and each time I refilled my bottle it got easier.

I've been reusing two bottles since late December 2006. I rinse a bottle out once a day and fill it up when I'm thirsty. The bottles look the same as the day I started. I haven't gotten sick, the water tastes fine, and by my estimate I've avoided consuming 888 since starting. By the end of the year I'll be at 1460 bottles!

Going by the Pacific Institutes estimate that "the total amount of energy required for every bottle is equivalent, on average, to filling a plastic bottle one quarter full with oil" in one year I figure I've avoided using 48 gallons of oil (~1.15 barrels of oil).

Oil and Water Math

((16.9 oz per bottle*(1/4 pacific institute estimate of oil per bottle)*4 bottles a day * 365 days a year )/128 oz per gallon = 48.19 gallons = 1.15 barrels of oil

What gets me about this bottled water thing is how impressive the marketing has been. Even after I thought through it and convinced myself of the silliness of drinking bottled water over tap I still felt weird about drinking tap water. It makes me wonder if bottled water was the first cult I was unknowingly part of.

There's a tun of bottled water literature out there. But if all that reading is just too much, Penn and Teller do a pretty good job describing the psychology of bottled water in this video...