Because they peddle one of the most basic and ubiquitous resources on the planet, bottled water companies are notorious for manufacturing demand for their products, often by resorting to old Madison Avenue mind games, like exploiting our subconscious interest in exclusivity or by suggesting that their products are more pure than tap water.
Perrier was once extolled as the “champagne of water.” For a time, Evian, partnered with fashion designer Christian Lacroix to sell its water in limited edition, blinged out bottles. Tibet Spring sources its water from the Himalayas. The list goes on—these companies and a bevy of competitors all seek to differentiate themselves while trying to make us forget that what they’re pushing isn’t much different from the stuff that flows from our taps for fractions of a penny per glass.
The latest entry into the bottled water market threatens to overshadow all of these in sheer preposterousness, thanks to Kona Deep and its “premium deep ocean water.” If the prospect of washing down your lunch (or cocktail hour crudités, if we’re still being fancy) with a mouthful of saltwater sounds unappealing, don’t worry, Kona Deep has you covered. This is not just any water from the ocean, it’s desalinated water from the ocean.
But water is not a luxury, it’s a human right, and the process of bottling water already squanders tons of resources. According to the Pacific Institute, the manufacturing, production and transportation of bottled water is 1,100 to 2,000 times as energy intensive as the treatment and distribution of tap water, using enough oil to fuel between 1.2 and 2.1 million cars a year. Then there’s the bottles themselves, which use up about 23,000 tons of plastic a year—the equivalent of between 0.8 million and 1.4 million barrels of oil—80 percent of which are not recycled.
Desalination, which separates salt from seawater in order to create fresh water for irrigation and drinking, is also a big energy drain. The National Research Council estimates that seawater desalination in California is nine times more energy intensive as surface water treatment and 14 times more energy intensive as groundwater treatment. Moreover, emissions from desalination plants contribute to global climate change. There’s also the cost—desalinated water is often twice as expensive as water from municipal systems, which ironically, is where much of the bottled water sold today comes from.
Bottled water is already a drain on our wallets and our resources; we don’t need to exacerbate its financial and environmental impacts by combining it with another irresponsible water extraction process, particularly for profit. Nor, should we intensify its negative effects on the environment by shipping in from Hawaii to the mainland—another significant waste of energy. But that’s exactly what Kona Deep is doing, even as it tries to romanticize its product by claiming it comes from “melted glacial water, which sunk into the ocean floor” over a millennium ago.
While that tagline sounds better than “it comes from the ocean, where slimy things live,” consumers would be wise to put down the Kona Deep and turn to the tap instead.