The beverage industry has become wealthy by convincing Americans to buy bottled water even though it is less sustainable, less tasty, and more expensive than tap water. Furthermore, turning water into a commodity threatens ecosystems and creates social injustice.
Bottled water is unsustainable because it wastes water and oil, produces carbon dioxide, and creates mountains of trash. Factories require 1.34 liters of water to produce a 1-liter bottle of water. Water is also used to drill for the oil used to make bottles and to produce the paper labels. In 2007, it took 17 million barrels of oil to make the bottles for the water sold in the US–enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year. Because there is no deposit to encourage recycling, about 77% of bottles end up in landfills.
Manufacturing and transporting bottles sends CO2 into the atmosphere, adding to climate change. Ecosystems can be destabilized as companies overdraw and ship away groundwater. Worst of all, bottled water converts a basic necessity of life into a luxury item. Private ownership and exploitation of drinking water for profit is morally unacceptable.
But here is the good news: we can make a difference. Using common sense, we can see past the scare tactics of advertisers and realize that our tap water is a great common good to be used, celebrated, and protected. Tap water is more stringently regulated than bottled water and in taste tests, tap water usually wins. We can advocate for improvements to our water infrastructure, which would cost less than the money we give to the beverage industry.
In Michigan, the Great Lakes State, we feel a special responsibility to care for the precious fresh water resources that surround us. We can demand limits on water withdrawals to protect our Pure Michigan. We can support legislative proposals for a recycling deposit on plastic bottles to reduce litter and landfill. And we can carry reusable bottles that serve as a public witness to our social conscience—especially if they are decorated with a soon-to-be designed People’s Church sticker (available on Earth Day).