We’re paying nearly 2,000 times more than we need to — for water.
We’ve known for a long time that bottled water is bad news: plastic bottle waste is a prevalent pollutant, microplastics are starting to find their way into our food chain, and companies like Nestlé pay nearly nothing to extract enormous amounts of water from communities, even in a drought or during a crisis.
But people buying bottled water might not know just how bad it’s gotten -- and how it is that Nestlé and other bottled water companies can manage to sell bottled water to us for nearly two THOUSAND times the cost of tap water.
In our latest report on the impacts of the bottled water industry on people and the environment, Take Back the Tap: The Big Business Hustle of Bottled Water, we found disturbing information about predatory marketing, the extraction of communities’ water resources, and the powerhouse lobbying that has helped bottled water corporations see sales soar since 2010.
So what does this have to do with infrastructure?
Here are some numbers to start. In 2014, 64 percent of bottled water was, essentially, filtered tap water -- up from 51.8 percent in 2009. From 2010 to 2014, total federal funding for public water infrastructure fell from $6.9 billion to around $4.4 billion. In other words: as funding for safe public water fell 37 percent, bottled water companies were able to increase sales of what was basically just tap water under the guise that it was “safer.” Even though the U.S. government requires stricter safety monitoring of tap water than for bottled water.
When Congress doesn't fund water infrastructure, Nestlé wins.
And this is something they spend millions doing. The International Bottled Water Association, Nestlé Waters NA, Nestlé USA and Coca-Cola lobbied Congress on issues including bottled water, water infrastructure, California drought relief and a National Park Service policy to allow parks to ban bottled water sales. These companies’ lobbying expenditures between 2014 and 2016 topped $28 million.
Their marketing schemes are predatory toward women, people of color and low-income groups.
Industry marketing strategies designed to promote the safety of bottled water to people who historically lack access to safe tap water (especially recent immigrants) prey upon those who may mistrust tap water and communities concerned about obesity and sugary beverages. In 2014, Nestlé spent over $5 million advertising Pure Life — the most advertised U.S. bottled water brand — and three quarters ($3.8 million) went to Spanish-language television advertising.
“We need to kick our bottled water habit—but we also need to adequately fund our public water infrastructure so that everyone has clean, safe and affordable tap water.” --Wenonah Hauter
Clean, safe drinking water is a human right. We cannot continue to be manipulated by bottled water companies into paying outrageous prices for something every person needs to live. We hope that more people take the pledge to give up drinking bottled water -- and for Congress to back this up with strong policy. Luckily, there’s a solution that will create millions of jobs and clean up our national water infrastructure: the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act, also known as the WATER Act.