Opinion
Join The Times' book club. This month's selection: "Cadillac Desert"
Opinion Opinion L.A.
Opinion

The invisible high price of your little bottle of water

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 © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Choosing between Big Brother and the Bill of Rights

    Choosing between Big Brother and the Bill of Rights

    Around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, there was a seismic shift in the U.S. Congress. As the Senate deadlocked over what to do about several expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, it became clear that political momentum had moved away from surveillance and secrecy toward freedom and privacy.

  • In Supreme Court redistricting case, it's the 'whole number of persons'

    In Supreme Court redistricting case, it's the 'whole number of persons'

    The Supreme Court agreed to take a case this week that will shape the future of American politics. Although the Warren court's famous "one person, one vote" mandate requires states to draw up election districts with roughly equal populations, the court is only now going to determine the relevant...

  • Pass the vaccination bill

    Pass the vaccination bill

    The vaccination debate has reached fever pitch. Legislation has passed in the state Senate that would do away with the "personal belief exemption" that allows parents in California to refuse to vaccinate their children. As it moves to the Assembly, opponents are ratcheting up their rhetoric, calling...

  • L.A. labor leaders' hypocrisy on minimum wage hike

    L.A. labor leaders' hypocrisy on minimum wage hike

    No, employers with a unionized workforce should not be allowed to pay less than Los Angeles' proposed minimum wage. It's stunning that after leading the fight for a $15 citywide minimum wage and vehemently opposing efforts to exempt restaurant workers, nonprofits and small businesses from the full...

  • A specious argument for doing nothing on Patriot Act

    A specious argument for doing nothing on Patriot Act

     Many critics of the federal government’s collection of the telephone records of millions of Americans – the most troubling invasion of privacy revealed by Edward Snowden – are hopeful that the Senate will vote Sunday to end the program. It could do so by approving the grandiosely titled USA Freedom...

  • Seeing the movie 'San Andreas'? Drop, cover and laugh.

    Seeing the movie 'San Andreas'? Drop, cover and laugh.

    With the action movie “San Andreas” opening Friday, you’ve probably seen the trailer of buildings in downtown Los Angeles exploding apocalyptically. And you probably know that’s ridiculous.   Although I do get a kick out of seeing the letters in the Hollywood sign topple over like playing cards....

Comments
Loading