June 30th, 2009

Bottled water

Be careful... she's winding up for a rant.

Last weekend I was in the grocery store, and unexpectedly found myself in an aisle I'm unfamiliar with-- the one that sells bottled water. I rarely have reason to be in this section of the supermarket, so I was shocked at what I found. The amount of shelf space dedicated to plain, generic bottled water, nearly an entire aisle, stunned me.

I live in Alameda County, California. We get our water, pure mountain runoff, from Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which happens to be located smack dab in the middle of a crappy, polluted industrial wasteland that you might have heard of. It's called Yosemite National Park. Some dude named Ansel apparently spent some time out there with a camera and managed to sell a few photos of that hellhole. San Francisco water is so good that they basically can't find impurities in it.

Not only is our tap water spectacular, but a glass of water costs a fraction of a cent. It's delivered to your kitchen through some newfangled process called gravity that doesn't pollute, doesn't waste natural resources, and is incredibly cheap to operate. I honestly can't remember the last time I had to pay the gravity bill. I just turn a knob and it's there. I don't have to go out and buy it, schlep it home, store it, or get rid of the containers. All this and it's practically free.

On the other hand, we have bottled water. It's hundreds of times as expensive as tap water. It's not safer-- in fact, it's less well-regulated than tap water. Often, bottled water is nothing more than tap water from some other city. It comes wrapped in petroleum, and it's trucked to your local store using petroleum, after which you almost certainly use petroleum to get it to your home. When you're done with it, you have a nearly-useless bottle to deal with, and it either winds up being recycled into something less useful or it spends many many years in a landfill. It lines the pockets of great big corporations with great big marketing budgets.

"But tap water tastes bad." Bullshit, I say. Bullshit. I've traveled all over the US, and I drink the tap water wherever I go. You know the worst water I've ever had? Dasani. If your tap water tastes bad to you, an inexpensive carbon filter can take care of that.

Admittedly, bottled water has some good uses. I have a stash of it in my home for emergency purposes-- I live in earthquake country, after all. A bottle can be a convenient serving container when you're on the go, at a picnic, in a casino, or wherever. As an everyday drink, though, it's ludicrously extravagant.

Bottled water is really nothing more than the triumph of marketing over common sense.