Bottled water is a big business. Since the 1970s the market for bottled water has boomed around the world. Even soft-drink companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola have dipped their hands into this successful product. According to Beverage Marketing Corp, New York City, Americans now consume more bottled water than milk, coffee, beer, or any other drink (Fishman) Consumers’ thirst for the beverage is fueled by many factors, one of the largest reasons being an increased interest in a healthy lifestyle. As a result, the bottled water market increased by an average of 9% annually between 1999 and 2004 (Spinner, 2006) The global rate of consumption more than quadrupled between 1990 and 2005 (Li, 2007) People in the United States buy more than half a billion bottles of water a week; that is enough to circle the earth more than 5 times (Leonard). How can we explain this trend and what are the consequences for producers, consumers, and the environment?
Bottled water consumption reflects a certain way of life. In many cases, bottled water is an alternative to tap water. Consumers think it tastes better than tap water and they perceive it as being safer and of better quality. Bottled water is perceived as pure and harmless, although it is not necessarily the case. Consumers care for their health and their well-being and bottled water happens to be a quick, easy, and healthy alternative to other bottled beverages.
The history of bottled water comes back to how the economy works. If companies want to keep growing they have to keep selling more and more stuff. In the 1970s giant soft drink companies got worried when they saw their growth projections starting to level off (Leonard). This was most likely because one person can only drink so much soda and sooner or later people were going to realized that soda is not healthy and they will convert back to drinking tap water. So at the end of the 1970s companies found their next big thing in a French product, Perrier. This was water sold in glass bottles and became the newest fad. It wasn’t until 1989 when they started manufacturing bottled water in plastic containers (Tapped, 2009). But how do you get people to keep spending two-thousand times more on a product that they can get out of their kitchen sink? Companies needed to find an effective way to keep people interested in their product, so they start using manufactured demand, or advertising. They started scaring people away from drinking tap water, telling them it was no good. Susan Wellington, president of the Quaker Oats Company’s United States beverage division said, “When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes” (Gleick, 2010) Their next technique was to hide the reality of bottled water behind pure fantasy. They market it as being convenient and personal, which caters to our desires as a human. Producers know that we love having something that is all ours and in close reach whenever we want it. They seduced us with images of mountains, streams, and pristine nature, but in reality one-third of bottled water in the United States comes from the tap. Pepsi and Coca-Cola are just two of many brands that are merely tap water.
There is much debate on whether bottled water is better or worse than tap water. Obviously there are places around the world, and even the United States that do not have access to clean drinking water, so yes, in these places bottled water is the better choice. But in the places where most bottled water is purchased, tap water is equally comparable, if not better, than bottled water. In 2006 Fiji built an ad campaign around not drinking city tap water. They chose the city of Cleveland, Ohio and printed full page ads in magazines that read “The label says Fiji because it’s not bottled in Cleveland”(Gleick, 2010) Obviously the city of Cleveland was not pleased and conducted a blind test comparing Fiji water to their city’s tap...