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February 24th, 2010

Sluggish Economy: 1, Nestle: 0

Nestle’s apparent quest to profit from sucking the earth dry of water may have hit a snag: people don’t seem to be buying as much bottled water anymore. Last week, the beverage mega conglomerate announced that revenue from its bottled water operations dropped 1.4 percent in 2009. In the grand tradition of corporate spin, Nestle’s public relations department had a convenient scapegoat for this turn of affairs: the recession.

Riiiiiiight.

While it makes sense that a challenging economic climate would inspire consumers to make fewer frivolous purchases and to cut back on expenditures like a commoditized natural resource packaged in wasteful containers and sold for thousands of times its actual value, we have to wonder if this trend may have other causes. For instance, maybe this decline has more to do with the fact that consumers are finally wising up and rejecting the bottled water industry’s attempts to undermine their confidence in good old-fashioned tap water. Or, perhaps, thanks in part to efforts like our Take Back the Tap campaign, more and more people are learning that bottled water wastes natural resources, expends huge amounts of energy, and makes Mother Nature cry.

While this news of what we hope will ultimately prove to be bottled water’s slow demise warms our activist hearts, we also look forward to a day when our nation’s water infrastructure gets the financial attention it so dearly deserves. As we’ve told you before, many of the pipes that deliver water to our homes are over 80 years old, and rapidly deteriorating because municipalities lack the funds to keep them up to date. This can lead to water quality problems–the same one that often drive consumers to buy bottled water. To mitigate this, we need to make sure that our water systems are supported by a dedicated source of federal funding.

With federal funding for clean water currently falling behind system needs–to the tune of some $22 billion a year, we need legislation to make sure that the pipes that deliver water to our nation’s families and businesses are in top shape. A Clean Water Trust Fund would do just that. Think of it this way—you’d expect to have to make tune-ups to your vintage Model T if you wanted to drive it safely. Water systems also require regular upkeep.

But let’s get back to Nestle’s point that bottled water sales are slipping due to the recession. In a way this claim only goes to refute Nestle’s own spin regarding the public’s need for its products. If, as Nestle wants us to believe, bottled water is superior to tap water, a veritable a “solution” to water quality issues, wouldn’t consumers find other expenditures to scrimp on instead? It sounds to us like Nestle has already answered that question for us, and it sounds a lot like “no.”

-Kate Fried

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