Big companies greenwash the bottled water debate


This post was written for global blog action day 2010 in the name of water.

Do you know how much consumers spend on bottled water each year? Experts say it is upward of $100 billion. That’s an awful lot of money for something that you can get from your kitchen faucet at no extra cost. And if you pay for utilities—gas, electricity and water—then you’re paying for water anyway.

So why do so many people spend their hard-earned cash on bottled water? Many consumers claim that bottled water tastes better than tap water. In some municipalities, tap water isn’t very tasty. Others claim it’s convenient, especially for travel and sports. Yes, grabbing a bottle of water before heading out on a run or packing it along with lunch can be convenient. And that’s where the bottlers come in.

Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle Buy into Consumer Gratification

In the 2007 Fast Company magazine article “Message in a Bottle,” Charles Fishman recognizes that the growing bottled-water industry is “built on the packaging and the presentation.”  After all, how else could they get people to pay good money for something they don’t really need. The bigger problem is that consumers don’t recognize when they are being hyped.

Even though bottled water companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle have been criticized for contributing to the ongoing impact that plastic bottles have on the environment, they continue to add to the problem. Their solution: introduce new bottles that are supposed to be “greener” than prior versions. In the meantime they contribute to eco-campaigns in an effort to assuage their guilt. Unfortunately, this “greenwashing”—an organization’s insincere display of concern for the environment—seems to have had its intended affect.

Americans continue to buy bottled water at the rate of an estimated 34.6 billion single-serving (1 liter or less) plastic water bottles each year, according to the Container Recycle Institute. Of those water bottles, nearly 8 out of 10 will end up in a land fill or incinerator.

Consumers Can Change Their Water Buying and Drinking Habits

What is interesting is that there are a number of experts who say tap water is often better regulated than bottled water. If this is the case, than spending money on bottled water seems even more foolish. So, what’s the solution?

First, stop buying bottled water. It’s okay to wean yourself slowly. In the meantime, be sure to recycle all of your empty plastic water (and other) bottles.

Second, find an alternative. Many large retail outlets and camping supply stores carry colorful, durable plastic bottles that can be reused over and over. And if it’s the taste of tap water that has you displeased, consider a tap water filter. has a guide that offers information about how to read a water quality report and select an appropriate tap water filter.

Finally, make sure there is a Bottle Bill (container deposit legislation) in your state.  Currently, there are only 11 states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Vermont—that require small, refundable deposits on water bottles and other beverage containers. In those 11 states, 490 beverage containers are recycled per capita annually, compared to only 191 per capita in the other 39 states.

The truth is we all have choices. It just means you have to choose to not to use bottled water.