One cannot deny the alluring nature with which bottled water is advertised across the whole world – that it is way safer than tap water supplied by municipal authorities. Bottling companies have successfully sold water in plastic bottles predicated on the myth that bottled water contains more nutritive elements than tap water (which is mostly publicly funded) and is healthier. With the convenient nature of bottled water, consumers are always tempted to buy more of it. To the extent that bottled water rivals sodas and alcoholic beverages worldwide as regards sales metrics/profit margins – in global north societies such as the United States, bottled water is the most purchased beverage after sodas.
The Deliberate Plan To Cast Doubts On Public Water Systems Through Ruthless Advertising
The burgeoning water bottling industry has not only misled consumers in the global north (where the concept originated) but has transformed into an environmental and moral scourge across all areas of the globe. The astronomical growth of the bottled water industry is largely attributable to huge investments in advertising to inculcate in consumers the fallacy that bottled water – said to be extracted from natural springs – is healthier and safer than tap water from municipal authorities simply because it is processed through filtration. But numerous studies have shown that tap water is as equally safe as bottled water.
It has been a carefully crafted capitalist plan to privatize the one natural resource that everyone cannot do without – water. The privatization of this inalienable public resource has seen the bottled water industry cease lurking in the shadows to taking over supermarket shelves in every country on the planet. What the advertising of bottled water companies conceals (and one cannot extricate such advertising from propagandistic connotations) are the enormous, adverse, and detrimental environmental effects that such companies inflict on the planet. As well as the economic effects.
The Origins and Global Dominance of the Bottled Water Industry – Bottled Water Was Marketed As “Convenient and Enticing”
Bottled water appears immensely appealing. It is portable, which makes it fiercely convenient especially with the incessant bustle of urban centers – both in developed and developing countries. At a glimpse, bottled water seemingly looks harmless. The advertising of bottled water has cemented perceptions that it is tastier, cleaner, and smells better than tap water. Bottled water companies mainly originated in the United States with companies such as Poland Springs Water Company and Ozarka Spring Water Company in the middle of the 19th century. Their selling point was hinged on the idea that spring water had medicinal properties.
The water bottling industry remained at the peripheries of Western capitalism for the rest of the 19th century and the early 20th century but gained traction through relentless lobbying and marketing in the 1950s. Since then, bottled water companies have dramatically proliferated not only in America but in every country on Earth. This gigantic growth is exemplified by the fact that prominent U.S. brands such as Poland Springs, Ozarka Springs, and PureLife are now owned by the food behemoth Nestle – comprising Nestle Waters’ 51 U.S. distinct water brands.
Nestle Waters became the largest bottled water brand in 2008. One is not faulted for viewing this as an affront to the morality of humankind as a whole. Privatizing water, a public natural resource for all, is truthfully incorrigible. Some of these Nestle Waters brands are dominant in markets such as Nigeria.
Bottled Water Companies Making Profits as Public Authorities Fail To Provide Clean and Reliable Water in the African Context
In the context of countries in the global south, labelled developing countries, the case of bottled water is laden with inefficiencies of municipal authorities and central governments. In cities such as Harare and Lagos, where water challenges are a perennial feature in the wake of ever-expanding populations, bottled water companies have usurped the role of public authorities in providing clean and safe water to residents. Infrastructure as regards water supplies has hardly been changed. It largely reflects what the colonialists left. This is one of the many examples of neoliberal practice that has engulfed the continent – neglect your role as the rightful provider of public services in favour of private capital for a profit.
Tap water supplies in many African urban centers are erratic, and the water cannot be relied on for consumption because of inadequate treating due to the shortage of treatment chemicals such as chlorine. Bottled water companies have fortified their [private] profits off of the shortfalls of public authorities. Perceptions are that bottled water is harmless – it is the only safe alternative when faced with municipalities/city councils that have reneged on their primary duty to provide clean and safe water to everyone at universally affordable rates. But even in the global north societies where tap water is clean and safe (because it is publicly funded), bottled water reigns supreme. In this regard, one cannot cast away the powerful, hypnotizing effect of advertising. Nonetheless, it is indispensably pertinent to mention the ills of bottled water, and how it devastates public efforts towards making water a public resource for everyone in a world where water demand will eternally skyrocket.
The Economic Injustices of the Bottled Water Industry – Bottled Water Companies Only Exist To Make Infinite Profits
The bane of bottled water from a public wellness perspective is how insanely expensive it is. The economic impacts are severe – it is clear that tap water is cheaper than bottled water but people keep pumping money towards bottled water. In Australia, tap water is approximately $3 per 1,000 liters. Bottled water is roughly $3 per liter. This erodes public confidence in tap water. Tap water is publicly funded through rates paid by residents so that water is accessible and affordable to everyone. It clearly shows that the water bottling industry on a global scale is hell bent on making the highest possible profits in billions of dollars.
And in this, Western capitalism (a model for many countries in the world) cannot be absolved from harsh criticism. The demand for bottled water in the world is not a genuine one fostered by consumers – it is forced on people by ruthless advertising. More than $100 billion dollars is spent globally on bottled water each year – American citizens spend nearly $12 billion on bottled water each year. Billions of liters are sold each year, and they directly mean billions in profits for the giant companies.
These international companies are selling the same “tasteless, odourless and colourless” product provided by public authorities – the difference is apparent through “packaging and promotion.” The more attractive the packaging is, the more a customer is enticed to purchase a bottle of water. It is reported that approximately 10-15% of a bottle of water may go towards promotion/marketing. What they are selling is not the water but the perception and the myth that bottled water is pure, wholesome, healthy and that drinking it “will make you feel good.” Some of the companies simply lie to consumers – they sell bottled water derived from tap water supplies. This is a prejudice to public water systems – water that must be pumped into everyone’s taps is taken by private companies and sold for a profit. It is a serious affront to the moral dignity of humankind.
The Dangerous, Irreparable Environmental Effects Caused By Bottled Water
Bottled water is viewed through its association to “pristine environments” in discrediting the safety of public water systems. But as all this is shoved down the subconscious mindsets of people across the world, less is said about the harmful environmental impacts that the phenomenon of bottled water causes to the planet – our only home. Bottled water is packaged in plastic bottles. These plastic bottles give bottled water its infamous conveniency. However, this plastic packaging (Polyethylene terephthalate, simply known as PET plastic) is made from petroleum or natural gas – and these are non-renewable resources. With the perpetual growth in the demand of bottled water, more plastic bottles must be used. The plastic industry itself emits toxic contaminants into the atmosphere and water bodies that include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide
About 1.5 million tons of plastic are used to manufacture the plastic bottles in which the water is packaged. To say this is scandalous is an understatement. Although the plastic bottles can be recycled/reused, the reality on the ground is that this is scarcely done. These bottles can take up to 450 years to decompose. In the process, they release toxic contaminants into the soil, air, and water and they do not permanently disappear. They remain as plastic polymers “yielding individual molecules of plastic too tough for any organism to digest.” This is an injustice to marine biodiversity in various water bodies that include oceans. It is estimated that the U.S. (being the largest user of plastics in the world) recycles only 23% of its plastic bottles. These bottles pollute the world’s waterworks and water bodies – springs, rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans. Marine organisms such as dolphins and whales involuntarily ingest these plastic pollution.
Water bottling companies privatize the profits (from a public resource) while they socialize the negative effects to the environment. The construction of giant water harvesting installations heavily disturbs the ecosystem. Some bottling companies do not extract water from springs or streams but from underground aquifers. The collected water is then purified, which is a wastage. This also affects local wells as in the long run they will run short on the natural water supplies.
Many conservationists, for example those in Canada, argue that extracting large amounts of water from aquifers or surface water bodies for export and profits will eventually lower the water tables, thrusting local communities into great peril. Add to this the wasteful energy spent in transporting the water from the plant to the consumer – tap water is less energy intensive as it is distributed through underground pipelines. It is estimated that “producing and transporting bottled water uses up to 2,000 times the energy required to produce and distribute tap water.”
In all this, the existence of the bottled water industry should serve as a wake-up call to public authorities to challenge the poisonous notions advanced by big businesses involved in bottled water. Public authorities should be robustly fearless in defending public confidence in tap water. The provision of water must not be the business of a few elites, doing so for the sole purpose of gaining superfluous profits while in the process killing the planet.
Where tap water is questionable regarding its safety, public authorities should pull up their socks, and if it means working closely with the central/federal governments then that must be the case. The age of neoliberalism where public resources are privatized for a profit should ceaselessly be called out against. This is because all humans are equal and access to water – which every human needs – must not be at a premium simply because it is purportedly healthier, cleaner, and tastes better.