Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Opinion L.A.
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
  • 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 avian...

  • The death of Aylan Kurdi and the need for a moral policy on refugees

    The death of Aylan Kurdi and the need for a moral policy on refugees

    The photo was heartbreaking: A toddler in shorts and a red T-shirt lay face down at the edge of the surf, waves lapping at his head, his body settled into the sand like a piece of driftwood. His name, the world would learn, was Aylan Kurdi, and he and his Kurdish family were heading from Syria...

  • I've got the perfect job for Donald Trump right here

    I've got the perfect job for Donald Trump right here

    In a few days, the queen of England -- “Elizabeth the Second, by the grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" and so forth -- becomes the longest-reigning monarch in the even longer history of that sceptered isle.

  • Making the most of a cigarette tax hike

    Making the most of a cigarette tax hike

    A bill that would more than triple the California cigarette tax was gaining little traction in the Legislature until it received a push forward from Gov. Jerry Brown's special legislative session on funding healthcare for the poor. The additional $2-per-pack tax imposed by the bill would initially...

  • Do you think like an economist?

    Do you think like an economist?

    Let's see if you think like an economist.

  • How Jimmy Carter championed civil rights — and Ronald Reagan didn't

    How Jimmy Carter championed civil rights — and Ronald Reagan didn't

    In 1954, as segregationist organizations were springing up all over the South in response to Brown vs. Board of Education, the chief of police and a Baptist minister in Plains, Ga., visited a peanut farmer at his warehouse and urged him to join the local White Citizens' Council. The farmer refused....

  • Can Californians' privacy be protected in a wired world?

    Can Californians' privacy be protected in a wired world?

    State lawmakers have been trying for four years to provide Californians with more protection against warrantless snooping into their Internet-connected lives. The Legislature is about to take up the issue again, voting on a bill, SB 178, that would require state and local law enforcement agencies...

  • U.S. patience with Myanmar should only go so far

    U.S. patience with Myanmar should only go so far

    When the United States reestablished full diplomatic relations with Myanmar in 2012, the Obama administration was optimistic that the once-isolated Southeast Asian country, also known as Burma, was moving steadily along a path toward democracy. The ruling junta had recently turned over much of...

Comments
Loading
67°