Book Review: Bottlemania

In Medieval times, you couldn't trust the water and most people, including kids, drank beer for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After reading Elizabeth Royte's new book Bottlemania: How Water Went On Sale and Why We Bought It, one is tempted to take up the practice. One learns all the water that we drink, from bottle to tap and, yes, toilet, is fraught with compromise. Yes, the bottled water boom is all about hype and marketing (as is the bottle backlash) that there is much, much more floating around in the stuff.

Drink tap water? it can have contaminants, hormones, fertilizers, pesticides, arsenic, sodium and radon, let alone e coli.

Carry it in your own bottle? It might be made of polycarbonates that release bisphenol A, a gender-bender estrogen mimicking chemical.

Put it through a Brita filter? they are not recycled in North America and sixty million cartridges have gone to the dump since 1992. And, while the filters are effective at removing chlorine, lead, copper, cadmium and mercury, they don't do much for bacteria or cysts.


must be something in the water

And then of course, there is bottled water. First, the politics of taking it, with coverage of the battle between the residents of Fryeburg, Maine and Nestle, owners of Poland Springs. The locals claim that local lakes are dying because of the loss of groundwater, but Maine, like Texas, operate under a rule called absolute dominion, where landowners can pump as much as they want without regulation.

Then there is the marketing of it; as one Pepsico marketing VP said to investors in 2000, "when we are done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes." And don't call those bottles garbage; Coke's "Director of Sustainable Packaging" says "Our vision is to no longer have our packaging viewed as waste but as a resource for future use." -pretty farcical from the company that helped drive returnable bottles off the market, shifting pickup from a producer responsibility to a taxpayers.

And don't think those ethical waters that donate to charity or have corn plastic bottles are any better; recyclers say it gums up the conventional recycling and can't be composted in your back yard, it has to be done commercially. And Ethos water? it "perpetuates the idea that water is a commodity, and it subtly makes us forget that Starbucks, or any other food-service establishment has a perfectly good spigot behind its counter."

It is important that we are honest and open and not simply say TAP TAP NOTHING BUT TAP when there are clearly some circumstances when bottled water has a place, or deny that public water is not as perfect and pristine as we would like it to be.

And it is realistic to say that perhaps the best solution is to use tap water with a Brita filter, even though we are mad them for not recycling in North America, and to carry it about in a SIGG bottle, even though they won't tell us what their liner is made of.

But one is still tempted to go medieval and have a beer or two, while contemplating the compromise in every glass of water. And be sure to read ::Bottlemania as a rare example of a book that covers the many sides of a story, instead of taking the simple certainty. It's as unusual and refreshing as, well, a glass of clean cold water.

On Water
How to Green Your Water : TreeHugger
Drugs Are In Our Water ! Should I Switch to Bottled? : TreeHugger
Brita Water Filter Ad Campaign Provokes Strong Reactions
Care for a Drink... of Toilet Water?
On Bottled Water
Lipstick on a Pig Dept.: Rob Walker on Fiji Water
FIJI Water Leads Bottled Water Industry In Looking Green(er)
Survey: Can Fiji Water Be Green?
Steve Greenberg on Bottled Water
On Bisphenol A
Don't Buy A Nalgene Water Bottle Until You Read This
Canada Calls Bisphenol A "Dangerous"

On Elizabeth Royte

Garbage Land- a Review
This Month in Gourmet Magazine
Garbage Land: on the Secret Trail of Trash : TreeHugger
Garbage Land: The Website
Trace Pharmaceuticals in Water Supply Not a Good Reason to Drink ...

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