On Bottled Water: a polemic

January 4, 2007

think outside the bottle

There are very few things in this world that illustrate the simultaneous absurd and heinous nature of late modern capitalism as well as the bottled water industry. Now, before you run off, hear me out. This is not some guilt producing tirade aimed at making you give up some petty luxury in order to forward some neo-hippy abstract philosophy.

This isn’t even strictly about the environment (that place we all depend on for existence, and from whence most of our stuff comes), this is about being fucked (in a bad non-consensual great uncle Metaphoric sort of way), and you sure as shit don’t need to be a radical tree hugger to get incensed about being molested.

I know what you’re thinking, how can he start by making wild comparisons between bottled water and sexual abuse? Well let me show you.

The basic business model for bottled water is as follows:

Produce plastic bottles as cheaply as possible, typically using neither a sustainable nor environmentally responsible production model. Fill empty bottles with tap water, sometimes filtered, sometimes not. Sell bottled water at exorbitant prices.

Essentially what happens is that companies like Pepsi or Coca-Cola take water that you pay for with your taxes, filter it (or not), then sell it back to you at approximately 200% the average cost per liter of gasoline.

However the fun does not end here.

Using the massive profits of selling our water back to us, these companies invest their earnings into the lobby to further legitimate the selling of commonly owned (us) fresh water sources to private companies (them).

Overall this is tantamount to someone kidnapping your partner, pimping their sexual services back to you at crazy prices, then using the profits to finance a lobby to legalize kidnapping and pimping.

The crazy part is, we seem to have bought into this system hook, line and sinker.

Bottled water has now surpassed all other produced (non-alcoholic) beverages in terms of profit. Companies like CocaCola and Pepsi now support their soda-pop empires on the vastly higher profits of their bottled water industries.

Beyond being a corporate success, bottled water has gained remarkable cultural capital as well. While carrying a bottle of coke might be seen as corporate collusion or unhealthy gluttony, the mere carrying of a purchased bottle of water seems to come with a litany of health related assumptions.

One might think that this bizarre 46+ billion dollar empire is doomed to eventually fade, after all, one can simply refill a purchased bottle for free at any sink or fountain. Of course, enter the spin doctors. In emails recently circulated, authors claim that reusing bottles from bottled water can cause carcinogens to seep into liquids and cause harm to the drinker. This is categorically not true.

The source of this rumor was a master’s thesis from a student at the University of Idaho. The media reported on this work prematurely, and without it gaining adequate peer review. In reality the only agency who recommends not reusing bottles is (brace yourself for a shock) the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). They do not claim any risk of carcinogens, but instead note concern about the possibility of germs being passed along by improper cleaning procedures. Similarly, false rumors about the safety of reusable bottles (like nalgene) continue to surface throughout popular culture. All the while billions upon billions of dollars are being spent purchasing a product that is already publicly owned.

Similarly, the industry thrives on the perception that bottled water is safer than tap water. Again, sadly not true. The standards for public drinking water are markedly higher than the standards regulating ‘bottled’ water. While much of this water simply comes out of the tap (making it no safer than water we access from the tap ourselves), other bottled water comes directly from fresh water sources (lakes, rivers and the like) but is processed by corporations without the explicit oversight of the Government. These corporate facilities are not subject to as strict a set of safetly measures, and even if they are in violation of others face only the same impotent fines that protect our environment.

Of course, in every villain there lies the potential for good. For example, a recently launched company (in association with the United Nations) is selling bottled water in order to fund philanthropist goals in Africa. While not a registered charity, the young Canadian who started the company has been channeling the majority of his profits to Africa to provide sources of fresh drinking water to refugees of war torn or impoverished areas.

These kindnesses not withstanding, one has to stop and take a moment to consider what one is participating in. To buy bottled water is to allow oneself to be swindled, to pay more per gallon for one’s own water than gasoline, and to support a corporate lobby that would see all fresh water privatized and our annual water costs increased thousands of fold.

So whether you’re from the left or right, whether you like to hug trees or lynch hippies, whether you recycle or compete with your neighbors to see how many bags of garbage you can fill in a week, you are being swindled.

The bottled water industry is fucking our collective couches.

So for the sake of your chesterfield, your honor, and the future of public and commonly owned fresh water – stop buying bottled water.

Not only will you be doing a good thing, you’ll be saving thousands of dollars a year, and showing the corporations getting rich on our collective stupidity that enough is enough.


17 Responses to “On Bottled Water: a polemic”

  1. Excellent peice of writing!

    And I would hope people who would like to give a shit about things like this won’t be disuaded by potential “granola-cruncher” labels. As you so aptly put it, “Uncle Metaphorical” is a much greater threat than a bunch of predictable label makers who are too insecure to show they care about something. ;)

  2. Trevor, Oreo Pimp Says:

    Preach it, brotha. Testify, even. I can’t think of anything to add to your polemic, since you basically said everything that needed to be said. The only thing missing is an elaborate diagram with arrows, dildos, and holes.

    It’s a metaphorical diagram, I think.

  3. Scott Says:

    What is one to drink when sitting down to eat a slice of pizza at your favorite pizza joint? A person can buy a soda or buy bottled water. If you ask the store for a free cup of water, they’re likely to take out the eyedropper and put a few drops in a micro-sized cup. It seems sensible to me to buy bottled water over buying unhealthy soda. I suppose if you’re bolder than me you can complain when the store refuses to give you a reasonable amount of tap water.

    I think you’re entirely right when buying bottled water for your home or in an upscale restaurant. I especially hate how waiters try to make you feel low for drinking from the tap.

  4. w()rmwood Says:

    I think Scott raises a good point.

    Drinking water is more healthy than drinking soda.

    However, my point is that buying water is a scam. Not only is it a scam, but its a scam that also makes you a participant in a broader endeavor to privatize water.

    It begins with a bottle here and bottle there, the privatization of all water comes later.

    It might seem silly, but think back to 10 years ago. A decade ago, even in fancy restaurants, the only water you would purchase would be carbonated.

    Now, as Scott notes, restaurants tend not to give out free water, and those that do often treat it like ‘ghetto’ water.

    But ya, the main issue is not that you should drink pop, its that you shouldnt need to buy water. You’re already paying for it, its yours, you should be able to drink it for free.

  5. Cookie DeMaurier Says:

    In response to the pizza parlour question: one option would be to carry a personal, reuseable water bottle in your napsack or on your person at all times. Of course, that’s not always an option, in which case, it doesn’t seem to me to be a horrible sin to buy a water every once in a while. I mean, sure, a few pennies every couple months might go to the corporate parasites, but in my opinion, it’s all about being aware of what reprocussions your actions may have, being informed, and making the best, informed decision you can in any given situation.

  6. John Gap Says:

    Wake me up when fresh oxygen comes from a six-dollar pop-can.
    Spaceballs baby.

  7. Pee'in Ian Says:

    I have the simple solution as always.

    Bottled water can be contaminated by bacteria (there are any number of news stories to back this up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottled_water).

    Urine is sterile (you can find any number of references for this one too so http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_urine will do).

    So, to avoid potential health issues – you should drink urine instead of water.

  8. tom Says:

    What’s the company that you mentioned that sends money to Africa? At least if I’m going to buy bottled water, my money’s going to something useful.

  9. w()rmwood Says:

    I cannot actually assure anyone that this company is totally without problems, but it does seem better than any other options.

    the company is called “Earth Water”

    this is exerpt from a university paper:

    “Originally created as a fundraising project for the United Nations, Chilibeck’s concept ballooned into an ongoing long-term endeavour in the form of Earth Water International. The net profit Earth Water International receives will be donated to the United Nations Refugee Agency to be used towards water programs in developing countries. Because of its socially conscious goal, Earth Water is the first food-and-beverage product to sport the United Nations logo. The company’s aim is to donate 15 – 19 cents from each bottle towards the UN.

    “The reason we want to go with 15 – 19 cents is because that’s approximately what it cost to provide clean fresh water to a child for a day,” said Chilibeck. “This is no different than any other bottled water that Coke or Pepsi sells. But the more we sell, the more we can give back to the UN.”

    Earth Water is steadily gaining ground in Canada, where the bottled water is found in large chain supermarkets and cafés. Though the company is still in its infancy, Chilibeck said it has already broken even and will be sending $25,000 to the UN this fall, during the company’s one-year anniversary. In fact, the response is so overwhelmingly positive that Chilibeck is in talks to export the water to the United States and Europe.”

  10. w()rmwood Says:

    Personally I think think buying bottled water is foolish, and problematic … but at least this company isnt spending the money on lobbying to privatize water!


  11. Nadia P Says:

    I just wanted to see a) sources of your research and b) most of your evidentiary proof. W/out that, your excellent, well-thought out and inpiring thoughts are just fluff. Sorry man, sad, but true.

  12. w()rmwood Says:

    If i were writing an academic paper, I would have included footnotes and sources as a part of a more evidenced based analytic position.

    However, this is an opinion piece. My only goal, as the title ‘polemic’ suggests, is to engage a dominant position and question it. Most of the article is my opinion – which boils down to(basically):

    1) buying our tap water back from corporations is silly, expensive, and counter productive
    2) That the privatization of water would be bad

    In terms of factual assertions, I would encourage people not to take my word for it, do the research. I have found countless sources on the subject, but then again one could then question the validity of each source.

    I can offer some pretty universally recognized sources for some of my factual assertions.

    1) bottled water often comes from the Tap


    2) the disproving of the ‘cancer from reusing plastic bottles email’


    3) Corporations are interested in privatizing water more generally (this one is tricky because no one can tell the future, but Bolivia offers an example of this having happened)


    So Nadia, I guess my question would be which factual assertions are you questioning? I can try to provide you with some help if you would like to do independent research on any of these points of fact….

    If you are looking for some sources for my general position that the bottled water industry is fucking our collective couches – well that will be harder.

    In short, the above is my opinion, based on fact. Any fact I have mentioned above is easily confirmed with a bit of research.

    As for my opinion, people are welcomed to take it or leave it.


  13. EnviroNerd Says:

    As for more on collective chesterfield radishing: since it’s basically tap water anyway (sometimes purified, sometimes not), we have not even discussed the broader environmental effects of bottled water. The product must be packaged in plastic bottles (which may or may not be recycled), instead of us doing what is easiest: using a glass or reusable bottle from our taps. Plus, that tap water must be shipped/distributed, using additional fossil fuels (which again, is totally unnecessary if we drink our tap water). Then, local water tables may also be disrupted or unbalanced or dried up because of corporate “over tapping”, for the benefit of others to buy the water (even if it’s not tap water, it has to come from somewhere)…

    In short: if we rely on corporate bottled water products because we’re truly concerned about tap water safety, then it’s time that we ask our representatives in government to step up and take care of this valuable and most essential natural resource. Honestly, as much as we all can be paranoid about government ineptitude or even downright conspiracy, do we really trust corporations much more?

  14. tommynoble Says:

    Pee’in Ian: I don’t think drinking urine is a good idea, not even as a form of protest, but at least it’s probably safer than most detergents to use to wash out the water bottle you plan to reuse… you just have to get over that weird taste… :-b

    on the pizza comment: most soda fountains which offer fruit punch, iced tea or lemonade offer a water lever. many places are even self service for fountain beverages these days. buy the small beverage and go to places which offer free refills and take your water back!

    we pay more per unit for bottled water than we do for gasoline, we complain about how much gas costs while we don’t bat an eye at a higher cost when the water gets more expensive. we whine that the gov doesn’t give us our money’s worth and then whip out two bucks for a bottle of water.


  15. Alex Says:


    I just wanted to check something.

    If you dont go too York University, someone has done some extream plagerising. Your artical (word for word) was in the Critical times, a small newspaper distributed on York University Campus.

    If you gave consent then good for you I read it there and loved the artical.

    If not then take whatever action you wish, just wanted to let you know.



  16. w0rmwood Says:

    Thanks Alex,

    While I am currently on leave from York, I actually do contribute to that paper.

    The article is ever so slightly modified for the paper publication, but yes it is with my consent.


    I very much appreciate you mentioning it though.

  17. I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well. But it was interesting! Look for some my links:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

  • Isaac and the Leopard
  • Blog Stats

  • January 2007
    M T W T F S S
    « Dec   Feb »
  • Recent Posts

  • Top Posts

  • Archives

  • Meta

  • Advertisements
    %d bloggers like this: