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Water woes

(article, Kim Carlson & Stephanie Beechem)

In science class, everyone learns that oil and water repel each other. But don’t expect that principle to cross over to bottled water, which floats to consumers on a veritable tide of petroleum. 

Given the oil needed to produce the bottles, plus more of the same to transport the bottles to a filling site and then haul them somewhere else, bottled water and oil — and therefore pollution and greenhouse gases — are inextricably connected. 

[%image feed-image float=left caption="SIGG's reusable aluminum water bottle."]

National Geographic reports that almost 25 percent of all bottled water crosses national borders to reach customers; the Evian bottled-water company alone exports 50 to 60 percent of its supply outside its home country of France. The Earth Policy Institute reports that it takes a staggering 10 million barrels of oil to make the water bottles Americans consume in an average year.

Luckily, customers, restaurants, companies, and even municipalities seem to be wising up to the environmental cost of drinking bottled water. New York City recently began a multimillion-dollar public campaign to encourage its citizens to drink tap water. San Francisco’s mayor recently instituted a ban on bottled water in all of its city departments and agencies, encouraging city workers to drink from the tap instead. 

And while companies like Pepsi and Nestlé struggle to respond to the recent bottled-water backlash, companies like Brita and Nalgene are looking to cash in on consumer guilt about drinking bottled water by promoting the use of Brita charcoal water filters, in combination with reusable Nalgene plastic bottles, as an environmentally sound alternative to bottled water. The Los Angeles Times reports that sales of SIGG USA’s reusable “eco-friendly” aluminum bottles have grown 200 percent in the last three months.

Finally, Slate has an excellent resource for those vowing to pack their own: a water-bottle roundup — with ratings.

And while the battle against bottled water is the splashiest water issue in the media right now, other water issues keep cropping up across the world. The New York Times_ featured an opinion piece in July about the drought currently ravaging Australia. And this year's Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico is one of the largest ever recorded.


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