By Ryan Radia and Angela Logomasini
Thanks to environmental activists and busybody lawmakers, bottled water may soon be more expensive and less accessible. They say bottled water is wasteful and environmentally irresponsible, and they are pushing a host of silly laws to tax, ban or otherwise hinder access to the product.
Among the anti-bottled water complaints is the claim that making and transporting bottled water uses too much oil and that switching to tap water could significantly reduce U.S. oil consumption. Yet even if everyone stopped drinking bottled water, U.S. oil consumption would decrease just 0.02 percent, based on figures found in a recent New York Times article criticizing bottled water.
But let's face it. How many people do you know who are willing to carry around bottles of warm tap water? If we banned bottled water, many people would probably still buy bottles full of something.
Similarly, claims that bottled water is wasteful don't hold water. After all, all products require energy for development and transportation, but that fact alone does not make them wasteful. We allow consumers to decide what items add value to their lives; why is bottled water any different?
Yet greens insist that bottled water is different than other products because it can be replaced with tap water -- which is essentially the same product minus the negative impacts. At a press conference recently commenting on consumption of bottled water, Salt Lake City Mayor Ross C. "Rocky" Anderson went as far as to declare that consumption of bottled water "very clearly reflects the wasteful and reckless consumerism in this country. ... You really have to wonder at the utter stupidity and the irresponsibility sometimes of American consumers."
One has to question the wisdom of a lawmaker who calls his constituents stupid, but that's another issue. In any case, people who drink bottled water are not stupid! Consumers apparently value the freedom to stop by the local convenience store to grab some chilled bottled water when the need arises rather than lug around reusable containers filled with warm tap water.
In addition, while tap water may be cheap and safe, it simply doesn't taste good enough for people. Anti-bottled water fanatics may not care about how water tastes, but apparently many other consumers do.
And the reason that bottled water tastes so different than tap is because it is different -- despite green claims that some bottled water is nothing more than repackaged tap water. While some bottled water may share the same source as city water, bottled water companies further purify municipal water before bottling.
In fact, the two leading brands -- Aquafina and Dasani -- both use reverse osmosis to filter out impurities. Such advanced purification technology does cost a bit more, but some people think it produces tastier water than what they get municipal water treatment plants. Other special treatments used for bottled water include distillation and ozonation, all of which are performed on top of municipal filtration.
Environmental activists hope to undermine such differences by calling on the Food and Drug Administration to mandate that bottled water companies to prominently disclose whether the source of the water is municipal on the label. Such mandates may sound fair, but they would actually mislead consumers into thinking that these products are an equivalent to tap water, which is flat wrong.
Existing labels are more accurate. They don't make fraudulent claims about the water coming from a natural springs, but provide other information. For example, Dasani specifically notes on the label that it is "purified water."
Another overlooked benefit of bottled water is that it offers a consistent quality product. It is in a sense just like McDonalds. If you get a Big Mac in New Jersey, it's pretty much the same thing as one you get California. Likewise, a bottle of Dasani from California tastes the same as one from Maine. Not so with tap water -- different localities produce water of different quality. Tap water flavors come from many sources, ranging from minerals common in one area to different kinds of piping.
It all comes down to one simple question: Who should we trust to make the decision of what products we can buy? Should we trust busybody environmental activists or individuals who pay the bills and must live with the consequences of their own decisions?
It's a no brainer.
Angela Logomasini is director of risk and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a non-profit organization that promotes free enterprise and limited government. Ryan Radia is a research fellow at the institute, www.cei.org.