Just Say No to Bottled Water

By FRANK CARINI

Collectively, we Rhode Islanders can put a stop to bottled water being served at local environmental meetings, stop it from being omnipresent at every Statehouse hearing and help curtail this doozy:

The Danone Group, a French multinational company, sells its plastic bottle-encased mineral water, Evian, in an aluminum aerosol mister so consumers can conveniently “refresh” their faces. This spray that “you can feel good about using” comes in different sizes — your spray needs likely dependent on your face size — with the 1.7-ounce, palm-size mister selling for about $6. At that price, a half-liter plastic bottle of Evian would cost $55, or about $427 a gallon, noted author Charles Fishman in his 2011 book “The Big Thirst.”

According to promotional material from the Danone Group, “Evian Mineral Water Spray is sealed at the source. It cannot be contaminated, and will never leak. What’s more, Evian is propelled by environmentally safe nitrogen, won’t harm the ozone layer, and it’s recyclable. Evian Mineral Water Spray — serious skin care provided by nature.”

We gobble up this marketing b.s. and buy tap water in a can to spray on our pampered faces. It’s no coincidence that Evian is spelled “naïve” backward. We are green — and not in a good way — about the importance of water. We take it for granted.

In his excellent book, Fishman notes there’s a facility near an aquifer on the isolated north coast of Fiji’s main island that fills more than a million plastic bottles of FIJI Water a day. This water is trucked and shipped all over the world. Meanwhile, as these plastic bottles filled with water from an island aquifer are loaded onto cargo ships so thirsty Providence residents 8,000 miles away can avoid the bubbler, more than half of Fiji’s citizens lack access to safe, reliable drinking water.

Americans drink a combined billion bottles of water a week. The three largest brands of bottled water — Nestle Pure Life, Coke’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquafina — are municipal tap water, repurified and sold back to us in plastic bottles. We keep buying it, even in Providence, where a 2009 study by the Environmental Working Group found our capitol to have some of the best tap water in the country.

In fact, tap water is more closely regulated and monitored than bottled water, although that fact is lost in the marketing of bottled water as a cleaner, healthier alternative to the tap.

In 2011, the Environmental Working Group analyzed the labels of 173 bottled-water products and company websites to determine if companies disclose information on where water comes from, how or if their water is treated, and whether the results of purity testing are revealed. Researchers also followed up by calling dozens of bottled-water companies to find out which ones willingly tell consumers what’s in their bottles. Half of the products surveyed failed the group’s transparency test — 18 percent didn’t say where their water comes from and another 32 percent didn’t disclose any information on treatment or purity of water.

Tap water, however, is regularly tested and consumers can find local water information online.

Avoiding bottled water is one way we can take better care of water resources, locally and globally. The Ocean State should be at the forefront of a “Just Say No to Bottled Water” movement.

ecoRI News challenges all Rhode Islanders to get off bottled water. Stop handing out pallets of it at every road race in the state. There’s plenty of better ways to rehydrate runners without giving them water in a throwaway plastic bottle with a massive carbon footprint.

Panelists don’t need a bottle or two placed at their seats before a talk at the University of Rhode Island or Brown University about climate change. A pitcher of water and some glasses work just fine.

The state’s legion of outstanding environmental nonprofits shouldn’t be offering water in individual plastic vessels. No one is going to suffer from dehydration during a workshop or monthly meeting. Rhode Island features plenty of drinking foundations and glass pitchers to handle any thirst.

We challenge our elected officials to stop spending about $18,000 annually to provide bottled water at the Statehouse. Thirsty senators and representatives can bring a reusable mug to work and fill it with renowned Providence tap water.

In fact, we challenge all state agencies and institutions to stop the unnecessary purchase of water in plastic bottles, unless in an emergency.

Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.