There’s something awful about every step of the bottled water process.
Companies like Nestlé, bottle water for percentages of cents per gallon, sometimes without permits (and often against the wishes of nearby communities), and sell it for enormous profit. They encourage distrust of tap water, even though that’s essentially what they are selling us. The bottles litter our oceans and our National Parks, and are even making their way into our food chain.
But here’s a new one: their predatory marketing schemes are explicitly targeting women, communities of color and lower-income groups.
“Purity” and “Health”
Marketing water as a health product is just...dense. Yes: water is healthy...because if we don’t drink it...we die. It’s kind of shocking that this is an actual marketing tactic.
But it’s not just marketed as having “no calories or artificial ingredients” (which is like labeling a head of broccoli “vegetarian”): it’s marketed as healthier and safer than tap water. This is a more clever ploy: with cities like Flint and Martin County, where public water infrastructure has been enormously underfunded, it’s no wonder people believe the hype.
But here’s the thing: over 64% of bottled water is essentially tap water. And bottled water is LESS regulated than tap water -- the Environmental Working Group looked at 10 major brands of bottled water and found 38 chemical contaminants that can be harmful to human health.
“When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.” — Susan D. Wellington
Not only are companies explicitly targeting health and weight-conscious young women, they’re also targeting parents and their children. Grocery stores have tiny bottles of water with cartoon characters and even bottled water for babies -- despite the fact that babies six months and younger are at risk for diarrhea, malnutrition, water intoxication and exposure to parasites.
They're not subtle at all: the aim is to make us pay a premium for water, which is a human right. Actual quote: “When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.” — Susan D. Wellington, former President of Quaker Oats Co.’s U.S. Beverage Division (later acquired by PepsiCo).
“It’s Your Heritage:” B.S. Marketing to Immigrant Communities
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. Their target audience? Latin-American immigrants, particularly mothers.
The angle is this: despite admitting that tap water is much cheaper and usually safer, corporations like Nestlé market bottled water as part of the immigrant “heritage” of coming from places with less access to clean drinking water. Seriously.
And it’s not just immigrant communities: new research shows that Black and Hispanic adults are more than twice as likely as white adults to drink bottled water.
The new research also confirms and solidifies older findings -- these patterns lead to "greater risk of health issues and financial burdens."
In other words: they’re not just ripping people off. They are potentially making them sick and targeting people of color and low-income communities -- people who are already subjected to systematic oppression in so many other ways.
Read our full report here.
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.