by Scott Smith

Do you remember your first bottle of bottled water? I do. I was in Chicago, circa 1988 when my high school boyfriend insisted that I must try some Evian (if you remember him you are probably chuckling over that). He said that it was so good, it was ‘like drinking air.’ He was right. It was the tastiest water I had ever… not tasted. Barb! sent me this NPR link which led me to the article Message in a Bottle which is what got me thinking about that first taste of bottled water.

Bottled water is often simply an indulgence, and despite the stories we tell ourselves, it is not a benign indulgence. We’re moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone. That’s a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water. (Water weighs 8-1/3 pounds a gallon. It’s so heavy you can’t fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water–you have to leave empty space.)

The author questioned John Mackey, CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods Market about the ethics of bottled water and got this response:

As for the energy used to transport water from overseas, Mackey says it is no more or less wasteful than the energy used to bring merlot from France or coffee from Ethiopia, raspberries from Chile or iPods from China. “Have we now decided that the use of any fossil fuel is somehow unethical?” Mackey asks. “I don’t think water should be picked on. Why is the iPod okay and the water is not?

Well, for one thing, the iPod is a durable good and really, that question seems like a diversion tactic. As for the other food issues mentioned, I would have to say that local is better on all counts, however, I’m not going to drink 8 bottles of French merlot a day in the same way that I might drink 8 bottles of water. And coffee is also not generally not consumed in the same quantities as water and doesn’t weigh as much since we add our own water once it gets to us (although it does have its own unwieldy set of environmental issues). I think its clearly a matter of efficiency but with all of the global warming and “getting off foreign oil” talk, bottle water seems like an issue we ignore too easily.

So, if I am to minimize my “footprint,” clearly bottled water has to be taken off the list of conveniences I consider available to me. I’ve been working on eating more locally. I guess its time to start drinking more locally too.