Consider joining me in a New Year’s resolution: I will not drink bottled water.
It’s a good resolution because it’s doable for almost anyone. It’s also specific, compared to ones like: “I will eat healthier” or “I will save money.”
If bottled water is part of your lifestyle, making a decision to change that is a direct and simple way to make a positive impact at many levels.
When I turned 40, I promised myself I’d quit eating junk food, especially food from machines. Every time I fed money into the office vending machine and heard the sound of the candy bar falling from its spiral holder and crashing into the metal bin below, I knew it was like the sound of fat globules clanging around in my arteries.
That sound became a device, a cue, that helps me remember my promise. When you’re trying to change your behavior, there are benefits to having an active imagination. From now on, whenever I think of getting a bottle of water from a restaurant or convenience store, I am going to imagine it is actually a bottle of oil.
I’ve gotten an unwilling taste of fossil fuels every now and again, thanks to my own clumsiness when I’m changing motor oil or siphoning gas from the garden tiller at the end of the season. It’s not a good taste. I would never buy a bottle of oil to drink, but that’s symbolically what we do when we buy bottled water.
In 2007, an independent study found it takes 2,000 times more energy to make bottled water than it does to make tap water.
This takes into account the oil used to make plastic bottles, to fill them, and to ship them long distances. On top of that, producing a bottle of water takes three times as much water as contained in the bottle itself.
Maybe this is one reason bottled water is more expensive than fossil fuel. Rounding to the nearest dollar, say you stopped at a gas station and paid $1 for a 20-ounce bottle of water and $3 per gallon for fuel. That works out to 5 cents per ounce for your water and 2 cents per ounce for your gas.
Municipal tap water? That generally costs less than a penny per gallon, which you’ve already paid through fees and taxes.
Other studies have shown tap water comes out ahead not only in price, but in taste and health quality, too. Manufacturers want us to think bottled water is the smart choice, but it’s only smart for them, because it’s so profitable. Bottled water outsells every beverage except soda, including milk and beer.
Just to be clear, by bottled water I don’t mean the bulk water you buy for your home because you don’t have access to safe drinking water. Similarly, if you need a drink of water, and you failed to bring some with you, and there’s not a fountain in sight, sometimes you have to take the least worst option. Buy a bottle of water. Don’t faint from heat exhaustion.
What I do mean is bottled water as a fashion, like other destructive fashions of the past — from the slaughter of birds in the 19th century to supply plumes for women’s hats, to the glamorization of smoking in the 20th century.
When we look back, we recognize there really was no good reason to do things that are so expensive and harmful. We’ll look back on bottled water the same way. It’s not a responsible use of our own limited financial resources or the planet’s limited natural resources.
If we played a game of association, one of the first things I associate with the word “discipline” is the word “planning.” We may consider exercise a discipline, but it’s mostly about planning time for it in your daily routine. Call eating healthy foods a discipline, but it’s largely a matter of planning shopping and meals so you’re not tempted by junk foods.
Avoiding bottled water is about planning to carry water with you in a good, old-fashioned reusable container during a car trip or work day when you know you’ll be thirsty.
It also requires planning on the part of groups, especially those whose mission includes promoting good stewardship of financial and natural resources, such as churches, conservation groups and service clubs. Those organizations should want to model good stewardship by taking bottled water off the menu at meetings and events.
So let’s raise a toast to the New Year. No oil for me, thank you. I’ll have a glass of water, straight from the tap.
Contact John Gladden at firstname.lastname@example.org.