A friendly rant about your bottled water habits

Bottled water on sale

Tap water is more highly regulated by the EPA than bottled water is by the FDA, which has no filtration or disinfection requirements, no mandatory reports of violations and less frequent bacteria testing. (Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune / July 20, 2014)

Don't worry, I already hate myself for writing this tsk-tsking, eco-whiny column. I already can't stand the sound of my own d-baggedness.

Having said that: People, please, for real, c'mon, seriously, for the love of God, stop buying and drinking bottled water.

This rant is brought to you by the Nestle corporation, which, in the midst of California's historic drought, continues to tap rare and quickly depleting aquifers on a Morongo Indian reservation to sell as its "Arrowhead 100% Mountain Spring" brand of water, according to the local newspaper The Desert Sun.

We're also in the middle of summer—beach time—so this is the ideal moment to remind everyone that when you drink bottled water, you might as well use it to wet a temporary tattoo that says "Yep, I'll Fall for Anything" and slap it on your forehead.

I fully admit I'm not perfect. I've been on my way to North Avenue Beach and realized I didn't bring anything to hydrate myself other than a scintilla of orange juice in the vodka, so I've grudgingly purchased a bottle of water. I get it. We've all been there.

However, that does not make buying bottled water any less monumentally stupid. Humanity spent its entire history dying of water-born illnesses until it got together to create public water systems that produced safe, clean drinking water. It's pretty much one of the crowning achievements of our civilization, and if you want to talk public health in the developing world, it's at the top of the list for relieving all kinds of human misery.

Even though it will never find its way to the news, getting potable water to people who don't have it is way more important than, say, defeating ISIL. Having access to a decent public water system is like being able to piss rainbows and miracles.

Yet here in the Global North we are basically setting money on fire to pollute the hell out of everything with our bottled water addiction. Some quick reminders:

Half of all bottled water is just tap water anyway, according to the organization Food and Water Watch.

Tap water is more highly regulated by the EPA than bottled water is by the FDA, which has no filtration or disinfection requirements, no mandatory reports of violations and less frequent bacteria testing. In other words, bottled water is in no way safer than tap water.

The amount of oil it takes to make plastic water bottles could fuel a million cars for a year. On top of that, it takes three times the amount of water to make the bottle as it does to fill it. For each bottle of water you drink, you're throwing away three others.

Sometimes, living next to Lake Michigan, it's hard to remember that much of the country (and the world) is water-starved. Bottled water is a multibillion-dollar industry only because companies like Nestle, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have figured out we're all idiots. It's hugely wasteful and totally pointless.
As the Ogallala Aquifer depletes, the Rocky Mountain and Sierra snowpacks vanish and the American West returns to desert, it will become even more important to treat water as the satisfying stream of rainbows and miracles that it is.

Stephen Markley is a RedEye special contributor.

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