OpinionOpinion L.A.
Opinion

The invisible high price of your little bottle of water

Droughts and Heat WavesWeatherBeverage Industry
The oil used to make the plastic for all those bottles of water each year could fuel 1.3 million cars
Plastic bottles are shipped to Fiji to be filled, then shipped to us. A crazy way to get a drink of water

Bottled water is usually a waste of money and, beyond that, an environmental mess. American buy 50 billion bottles of water each year, and recycle less than one-fourth of those bottles. It’s a tremendous source of landfill waste, but worse, 17 million barrels of oil are used each year to produce those bottles. That’s enough oil to power 1.3 million cars a year.

Now people are starting to question the environmental cost of allowing water-bottling operations in the state’s drought-stricken areas — specifically, Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water. The Desert Sun reports on concerns that during an ongoing drought, Nestle, the Arrowhead water company, is drawing unknown amounts of groundwater to fill all those single-use plastic bottles with its purified water. The state has questioned some of the water rights involved; Nestle is leasing the land from the Morongo Indian tribe.

In a region that faces worsening drought because of climate change, more questions will be raised on whether precious groundwater and surface water should go to the bottled water industry. The public would have the right to know at least how much water is involved, but because the pumping and bottling take place on sovereign Indian lands, no reporting is required. On the other hand, though the idea of shipping bottled water is troubling in times of drought, tremendous amounts of water are used in other industries as well. And if large-scale fracking should start up in California, the amount of water needed for injection would eclipse anything taken by Nestle.

A more troubling source of bottled water is Fiji. Yes, the water in those exotic, square-shaped bottles is truly exotic. It’s shipped all the way across the ocean from the South Pacific. But only after the plastic bottles, which are manufactured elsewhere, are shipped to Fiji to be filled.

Really? We need to waste this much power and resources for a bottle of water? The virtually free stuff from our taps, via a piping system that’s already in place, is so bad that we buy water from thousands of miles across the ocean?

OK, yeah, despite taste tests to the contrary, tap water in this region does taste pretty bad. But filters can take care of a lot of that, chilling it improves the flavor, and purified water vended directly into reusable jugs costs only about 35 cents a gallon. That’s less than a pint bottle of water costs.

Bottled water can be a great convenience on a hot day. But we could save ourselves a lot of money, save space in landfills and help the environment in a whole host of other ways by viewing bottled water as exactly that: an occasional convenience rather than a daily necessity.

Many environmental problems are difficult to resolve. But water is as basic an issue as the elements that constitute it. Bringing back that good old staple — the public drinking fountain — and getting in the habit of carrying a bottle for refilling when practical is all it takes.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
Droughts and Heat WavesWeatherBeverage Industry
  • What global warming looks like up close
    What global warming looks like up close

    The growing season in Arctic Alaska is short. One month, the ice and snow are barely showing signs of melting. The next month, migratory birds arrive to build nests in the greening tundra. Their time for mating, laying eggs and sending fledglings off on their own is short; think of it as...

  • Will Secure Communities work for immigration enforcement?
    Will Secure Communities work for immigration enforcement?

    The federal government's Secure Communities program has been as controversial as it has been counterproductive, so we're glad the Obama administration's new approach to immigration enforcement will mean the program's demise. Yet we also harbor some skepticism about its successor, the Priority...

  • Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra lost focus, and reelection
    Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra lost focus, and reelection

    With so much focus on who's raising the most money, who's got the big-name endorsements and who's got labor or business or whatever special interests' backing, it's easy to overlook the simple fact that elections are decided by individual voters. Money, political connections and even incumbency...

  • Why do people cross the border illegally? It's not what you think
    Why do people cross the border illegally? It's not what you think

    President Obama's executive order on immigration will affect the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants — perhaps as profoundly as their illegal crossing into the U.S. did in the first place. It's been a divisive action about people some Americans regard as criminals. Yet what...

  • GOP ponders its next move in wake of Obama's immigration action
    GOP ponders its next move in wake of Obama's immigration action

    When President Obama announced his decision to allow roughly 4 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation, Democrats and Republicans in Washington disagreed furiously about the move. No surprise there.

  • Retailers are waging a war on Thanksgiving
    Retailers are waging a war on Thanksgiving

    There has been a lot of talk over the years about whether there's a war on Christmas. That's debatable. But there is definitely a pernicious and obvious war on another holiday: Thanksgiving. Every year, retailers greedily eat up more of the holiday and come a little closer to turning...

  • The real-life Bill Cosby show: Follow the sanctimony
    The real-life Bill Cosby show: Follow the sanctimony

    The phrase "follow the money" was popularized in the Watergate docudrama "All the President's Men."

  • Kinkisharyo and IBEW win; CEQA loses?
    Kinkisharyo and IBEW win; CEQA loses?

    When Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the deal he had helped broker between Japanese light-rail manufacturer Kinkisharyo International and the electrical workers union, it was a win for the economy in Los Angeles County. But for environmentalists? Not so much.

Comments
Loading