The Story of Bottled Water

The Story of Bottled Water by Madeline Ostrander, senior editor of YES! Magazine.

Worried about what’s in your tap?

That’s exactly what the water bottling industry hoped when it developed brands like Dasani, Perrier, and Poland Springs, which promise to be “natural,” “pure,” “clean,” even “sexy” alternatives to tap water.

But the very companies that market those brands, like Nestlé and Coca Cola, are putting public water supplies in jeopardy in communities both in the United States and overseas. They’re selling us a product that is often not any cleaner than tap water, and is a lot pricier.

Bottled water is a scam. The simplest way to understand why is to watch a new, short film released today by the creators of The Story of Stuff. Like its predecessor, The Story of Bottled Water uses simple language and surprisingly charming stick figures to walk you through the perils of the bottled water economy. “Bottled water costs about 2,000 times more than tap water,” says Annie Leonard, the film’s narrator and director. “Can you imagine paying 2,000 times the price of anything else? How about a $10,000 sandwich?”

The Story of Bottled Water film still

Bottled water often comes straight from the tap, sometimes with a little filtering, sometimes not. It is not necessarily safer. For instance, in 2004, the Coca-Cola company had to recall all of its Dasani water from the United Kingdom, after officials discovered the water exceeded the legal limit for bromate, a carcinogen. The Environmental Working Group recently tested 10 brands of bottled water—on average, they contained eight chemical pollutants, no better than tap water.

But there’s something even more insidious about the way that the bottled water industry preys on our public water systems and tap water. Water is both the most basic of human needs and a product of nature. It can’t actually be manufactured, so bottling it up and selling it always means removing water from a public source. As the bottled water market has taken off, we’ve seen public water fountains begin to disappear. Meanwhile, citizens in rural towns have begun to take notice that water-bottling companies are trying to sell off water that actually belongs to them. Communities like Barnstead, New Hampshire have fought hard to keep Nestle from bottling and shipping away their local water.

China’s Living Water Garden
Photo essay: Chengdu’s most popular public park is is a 5.9 acre inner-city natural water treatment system.

We’ve gotten used to thinking we have more than enough water to go around in this country, but it’s not true. According to experts like Peter Gleick, the United States is facing a water crisis that will only get worse in coming years. Already major water supplies like the Ogallala Aquifer and Lake Mead, which together supply water for millions across the Southwest and Great Plains, are in big danger of running dry. Climate change is going to alter everything we know about water—how much stays in our reservoirs, how much snow falls in the Sierras, how our rivers flow, and how much we have available to drink, irrigate our crops, and water our lawns. When we let a private company control, bottle, or sell our water—whether it’s Coca-Cola or the private water operator Thames—we’re giving up some measure of control over our health, environment, lives, and futures.

In May, YES! Magazine will unveil a full issue about how to protect our water and keep it clean and accessible. You’ll read about radical breakthroughs in contentious Western water wars, about a community that bought its water back from private control, about farms that are learning how save water by taking care of soil, and about ways to get all the water you need, even if you live in the heart of the desert.

In the meantime, you can celebrate World Water Day by watching The Story of Bottled Water, and read more about campaigns to protect water in our online and magazine coverage.


Madeline Ostrander

Madeline Ostrander is senior editor of YES! Magazine.

Interested?
Life, Liberty, Water by Maude Barlow
A global water justice movement is demanding a change in international law to ensure the universal right to clean water for all.

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Who’s To Blame For The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Look In The Mirror.

The slowly moving, perpetually undulating mass of pastel and primary colored plastic trash that bobs up and down in the middle of the ocean is perhaps one of the biggest man made eyesores of its …

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The slowly moving, perpetually undulating mass of pastel and primary colored plastic trash that bobs up and down in the middle of the ocean is perhaps one of the biggest man made eyesores of its kind aside from the infinite landfills of rotting post consumer waste that continue to dot our landscape. We’ve seen photos and video footage documenting the existance of this aquatic nightmare and every single one of us probably understands the correlation between our consumer obsession with plastic and what happens when we discard the temporary fixtures of our lives. For years, human beings have purged ships and boats of their excess plastic waste. We’ve conveniently forgotten to clean up after ourselves following long, lazy days at the beach. Countless plastic shopping bags, one-time-use plastic water bottles and beverage caps have been wind-swept from the pavement (where we dropped them) into overflowing sewage systems or carried there following rain storms.

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Our rational minds may tell us that a state-sized mass of plastic trash does not belong in the middle of the ocean and our mouths may even fall agape at the sight of hard to fathom images of the chunky plastic buouyant soup. In spite of the shock that may radiate through our systems, every single one of us is to blame for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’s existance. Scoff if you will. Cling onto the fact that you are a diligent recycler — go ahead and pound your chest while proudly declaring that you gave up bottled water one year ago and that reusable bags are your thing. You can itemize all of the personal efforts you’ve made to positively impact the environment but the bottom line is that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the result of society’s carelessness, and as a member of the human race, every single one of us is to blame.

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There is now so much plastic waste clogging the ocean 1,000 miles north of Hawaii that scientists estimate it is now about twice the size of Texas. This is hardly accidental, unless you consider apathy and outright littering a chronic mistake that has been coincidentally repeated ad nauseum by the large majority of our population. Perhaps it is a symptom of our cultural ignorance or it demonstrates the general lack of regard that humans have for what happens beyond our own small sphere.  How many times have you or someone else you know uttered such phrases as: “I’m too busy.” “It’s not my fault in the first place.” “Let someone else deal with it.” “I’ve never thrown out a single piece of plastic in my life, so don’t look at me.” “There’s no recycling service in my neck of the woods.” “I don’t live in the middle of the ocean, so why should I care?”

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 Not only is it our problem, we’ve got to stop passing the buck and presuming that someone else will take care of this mess. It may be unreasonable to suggest that everyone should start paddling out into the middle of the ocean on their weekends and dragging as much plastic trash as they can back to the mainland for proper recycling — that job is perhaps best left to marine scientists who must figure out how on Earth they can resolve this ecological problem as effectively as possible. In the meantime, we can’t allow these images to fade from our minds because they serve to remind us that our daily eco-friendly efforts can make a huge difference. Stay away from non-recyclable plastic products and make sure that every single piece of plastic that does enter your household leaves in a recycling container or is repurposed in a responsible manner. Pick up plastic “junk” that is discarded in public places and relocate it to a proper recycling bin. Shift your household over to more eco-friendly alternatives such as glass, wood and ceramic. Stop thinking that recycling one bag or cap is not going to make a difference. Clearly, it all adds up over time…just take a good long look at what is clogged in the middle of the ocean for all the proof that you’ll ever need.

The Top 10 Facts About the Great Pacific Garbage Patch:

  1. Each year, 10% of the 200 billion pounds of plastic produced globally ends up in our oceans and now, roughly 46,000 pieces of plastic litter are floating on every square mile of the ocean.
  2. A 1,700 mile mass of plastic garbage sits in the middle of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a slowly moving, clockwise spiral of ocean currents.
  3. The gyre actually consists of two large masses of ever-accumulating trash, the Western Pacific patch (located east of Japan and west of Hawaii) and the Eastern Pacific patch (floating between Hawaii and California).
  4. Both zones form what is referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and they are connected by a thin 6,000-mile long current called the Subtropical Convergence Zone.
  5. The mass moves seasonally as much as a thousand miles North and South in the Pacific while in warmer El Nino periods, it drifts even further South.
  6. Approximately 3.5 million tons of plastic waste can be found in this water-bound waste zone.
  7. 90 percent of all trash floating in the world’s oceans is plastic-based and some of the most common items found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch include toothbrushes, wrappers, bottle caps, plastic shopping bags, pacifiers, old toys, fishing floats, soda bottles, Styrofoam chunks, tangled nets and even patio chairs.
  8. The plastic pieces in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contain toxic elements able to absorb other chemicals such as DDT and PCBs, and these components can persist in the environment for decades.
  9. 100,000 marine mammals each year — such as sea turtles, seals and birds — are the victims of plastic trash-related deaths because they consume or become entangled in the waste.
  10. There are up to six pounds of marine litter for every pound of plankton in the ocean.

Red, White, Blue and…Green?

Red, White, Blue and…Green?

Posted using ShareThis by Rebecca Lacko, LA Parenting Examiner

Put a little green in your red, white and blue celebration

This Fourth of July weekend, Americans will light up more than 60 million barbecues and will roast about 150 million hot dogs and 890 million pounds of chicken and red meat. A yummy prospect for most picnickers, but consider that, according to Jason Green, coordinator for St. Petersburg College’s Office for Sustainability, “A typical party of 30 guests can create 80 pounds of waste.”

Not only is paper waste an environmental concern, but as Green reports, “It’s estimated that Americans using their grills will create the same amount of carbon dioxide as if 2,300 acres of forest were burnt.”

Think it ends with paper waste and CO2 emmissions? Think again. Fireworks contain potassium perchlorate, which gets into the soil, air and water and causes damage to the thyroid gland. Other ingredients include such heavy metals as barium and copper, which are toxic.

Party Like an Independent American, AND Minimize Damage to the Environment!

What are the best ways to celebrate the holiday season in an environmentally friendly way? Here are some ideas:

  • For July 4 parties, use real plates, silverware and cloth napkins and stay away from paper napkins, disposable paper plates and plastic utensils. If you must use disposable plates, buy plates that are biodegradable. Did you know that  disposable plates are now available that are made from corn, potato and sugar-cane pulp?
  • Throw a potluck party to share resources and carpool.
  • Prepare meals and desserts with locally-grown organic ingredients and free-range, grass-fed meats and poultry. (Bonus: they’re much more delicious!)
  • Balance your meat dishes with more sustainable vegetable-based items. Potato salad, anyone?
  • Provide recycling bins for glass bottles, cans and plastic — A must-do!
  • When BBQ-ing, use natural gas grills — they pollute less than charcoal grills. To make matters worse, over-charring meat produces toxic chemicals in the food itself.
  • Don’t shoot off polluting fireworks at home; instead, go to one of the city- or county-sponsored events.
  • Make your own natural insect repellent! Frequently reapply basic essential oils like lavender, rosemary and cedar wood. These oils can trick insects into thinking you’re a plant.
  • If you must use a DEET-based insect repellent, choose products with less than 20% DEET. Never apply over cuts or wounds; never apply on infants or if you are taking any medications; don’t spray in enclosed areas; and wash skin with soap and water after use.
  • Use environmentally-friendly cleaning products and cloths or micro fiber rags to clean up after the party.

    For more info: Learn more about the sustainable | SPC initiative

Am I GREEN? – What is “being green”?

I grew up in Germany, where “being green” wasn’t really an option. I remember helping my mom as a 6 year old, bundling up newspapers, carrying them to the cellar and storing them, until twice a year a truck came by and picked them all up. Back then there wasn’t really much paper trash, except the daily newspaper. Then we started collecting glass and driving it to recycling containers once a month or so.  Then came the “Green dot” or “Yellow sac”. We had to seperate plastic from envelopes, aluminum johgurt container lids from the plastic containers and we had to pull paper labels of tuna cans. Everything needed to be washed out, as we had to collect everything for 2 weeks until it was picked up. Because we lived in a small appartment, we had to make sure to clean every single item (including cans of cat food) to prevent nasty smells and infestation with flies, especially during summer (without Air conditioner). The yellow bags had to be kept inside until the day they were picked up on the curve. Each households then had a trash can and a stack of yellow bags. Then every household received a compost ‘trash’ can. The compost was picked up once or twice a month only – imagine the smell. BECAUSE trash service was expensive, everybody tried to have as little trash as possible. Compost pickup was free – so of course you make sure to compost as much as possible (and the county gets a good compost pile built up for their needs). When you go shopping to pay attention to the packaging the various products are packed in and start buying more and more products that use less packaging. When you buy bread at the bakery, they wrap it in a sheet of thin paper, not in 2 layers of plastic that makes it soggy anyway. (Do you know how much oil and water is needed to produce plastic bags? Oil we wouldn’t need to import if we’d all use reusable grocery bags – that are sturdier and better looking to begin with – you can even express opinions or your personality with these accessories). When you go shopping, you bring your ‘1 euro’ or plastic chip (the size of a quarter) and use it to ‘unlock’ your shopping cart; when you’re done, you bring back the shopping cart to the ‘station’ and get your chip (or euro) back (if you have been to Aldi, you saw the concept). It is a great way to prevent shopping carts from being abandoned in the parking lot and therefore eliminates the need for an employee that has to collect them and high insurance costs to cover damaged cars. When you buy beer, soda juice or sparkling water, you purchase it in cases (where you can mix varieties if you wish) and pay a deposit for each bottle and carrying case. You can then return it (at ANY) grocery or beverage store and get your deposit back. The bottles get washed and reused several times. If you have weeds in your garden, you pull them up by hand – it is good for the body and soul and doesn’t require the use of expensive chemicals that ruin our groundwater and end up in our drinking water, making us sick. I could go on and on – but I think you get the picture. If you live in Germany and don’t recycle, you pay a fine if they catch you. If you drive a vehicle that is not fuel efficient – you pay a lot more in taxes than others. If you don’t recycle – you’re frowned upon. So – it is a smart thing to do and you do your part as a responsible citizen.  I believe that is what qualifies for ‘being green” and I am very happy to see that more and more Americans realize, that we need to protect our resources, save money and live more responsibly by not leaving a huge footprint during our short time on this beautiful earth.

Recycle in Georgia

I Recycle in Georgia supports a statewide campaign to change misperceptions about recycling – and to get the 45 percent of Georgians who don’t recycle to get started.

You Gotta Be Kidding Home

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The Story of Stuff

From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.