This Emergency is Sponsored by Nestlé
Whenever there is a disaster that puts people out on the street, bottled water is there. Be it flood, drought, hurricane, fire or water main break, bottled water is always around to save the day. The camera from news coverage of such events will often pan by several cases of bottled water — conveniently delivered for free from a far away place — as if to depict that safety has arrived. The bottled water industry has certainly done a good job in recent years of associating their product with emergencies. But do we really need bottled water in most emergencies?
Nestlé Waters Canada recently donated 7,800 bottles of water to an elementary school and a middle school that were both experiencing water woes; they had lead in their tap water. Naturally, Nestlé came to the rescue. While I couldn’t locate any symbolic footage from a local news source of children clinging to their safe bottles of water, I’m sure you can picture it.
Nestlé and other bottled beverage companies are happy to donate bottled water to schools, churches, or anyone else who will help them solidify those images of people drinking bottled water in an emergency because nothing sells a product like creating the belief of “need.” And, while people definitely need water, we definitely should not be relying on Nestlé to provide it.
Back in 2003, the Baltimore school system had a problem with lead in their drinking water. They faced serious fines if they didn’t completely shut down their drinking fountains, so they turned to bottled water. But, it happened again in 2007 with city officials believing that it would be more cost effective to provide bottled water to school children. This scenario isn’t limited to Baltimore; it’s been happening in California, Ohio, Maine, Connecticut and Indiana, and the common quick-fix answer is to give the students bottled water.
But bottled water shouldn’t replace tap. Why not? It’s an extremely inefficient means of providing drinking water, which doesn’t solve the bigger problem of lead contamination. It also turns another generation of consumers into bottled water drinkers. I know what you’re thinking: How should we expect people to feel safe about providing tap water when there are obvious issues with lead and other substances being found in municipal water? Teach the tap! We need to reinvest in water infrastructure to stop water contamination from occurring and end our reliance on bottled water. America’s schools need funding for water, so we can fix the problem and eliminate the need for bottled water in our schools.
And what do we do while we’re fixing the infrastructure? If a school’s water system cannot provide safe drinking water, it’s just as easy for a municipality to provide a water truck for students as it is for a company to deliver pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped cases of bottled water. If we can share our personal thoughts online with people around the world in seconds flat, can’t we figure out a way to provide safe tap water to school children? We should be capable of providing water in most emergencies without relying on a company that taps into our public resources and sells it back to us.
Bottled water is not a permanent solution to the need for water in an emergency; it is merely a temporary fix. And, the more we rely on it, the more we will think we need it. We already have water infrastructure designed to bring water into our homes, businesses and schools. We just need to give that system some long-overdue attention. Instead of promoting a false and temporary need for bottled water, we could instead remind people to reinvest in our already-existing water infrastructure. Let’s fix the problem, not feed it.
Find out how we plan to Renew America’s Water!