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Report: Bottled Water Companies Rely on "Predatory" Tactics for Sales

Nearly 64 percent of bottled water comes from municipal taps, according to a new report. (Steven Depolo/Flickr)
Nearly 64 percent of bottled water comes from municipal taps, according to a new report. (Steven Depolo/Flickr)
March 2, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – Sales are skyrocketing for the bottled water industry, but what are companies actually selling to customers?

In its new report "Take Back the Tap," Food and Water Watch researchers look at the booming business of bottled water, which surpassed soda in sales in 2016. The group finds nearly 64 percent of bottled water comes from municipal taps and that it cost almost 2,000 times as much as tap water and four times as much as gasoline.

Patty Lovera, food and water policy director with Food and Water Watch, says bottled water companies target demographics through advertising, especially immigrant communities.

"It is much more the norm in other countries where you have to go buy bottled water because the safety systems aren't there for tap water,” says Lovera. “That's not the case in most American cities. That's pretty predatory to convince people they need to keep spending their hard earned money to do that and undermining people's confidence in tap water."

Bottled water companies say their water actually is safer.

The report also found about 70 percent of bottles aren't recycled and that four billion pounds of plastic were used to produce bottles in 2016. That's enough to fill the Empire State Building 1.3 times.

Activists also have raised concerns that companies that do rely on groundwater are depleting people's local water supplies and hurting the ecosystem.

For a decade, Nestlé has tried to open bottling plants in the Columbia River Gorge, but failed. In 2016, people in Cascade Locks voted to ban large bottling facilities.

Lovera says the company kept trying to open a facility in the town until Governor Kate Brown killed its chances for good last year.

"The governor weighed in and basically blocked a fairly complicated deal that would have let Nestle do a water transfer to get access to build a water facility in the Columbia River Gorge,” she says. “So, it's a huge issue for communities when they see the volumes of water that would be removed."

Lovera says even though most tap water systems are safe, the country's water infrastructure is in need of maintenance, especially in places such as Flint, Michigan, and that federal funding is the best avenue for that. But she adds that it can be difficult to get support for this idea.

"It's hard to build that political will if people think that you buy water at the grocery store and you just have to go take care of it that way” she says. “We kind of undermine this sense of ownership and accountability for having a tap water system that works for everybody."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR