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Research Gets to the Bottom of Bottled Water Sales

A new report says bottled water costs nearly 2,000 times as much as tap water. (Pixabay)
A new report says bottled water costs nearly 2,000 times as much as tap water. (Pixabay)
March 12, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. — Sales are skyrocketing in the bottled water industry. But what are companies actually selling to customers?

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

Patty Lovera, policy director with Food and Water Watch, said 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. That's not the case in most American cities,” Lovera said. “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 argue their water actually is safer.

The report also found about 70 percent of bottles aren't recycled, and 4 billion pounds of plastic were used to produce bottles in 2016. That's enough to fill the Empire State Building 1.3 times.

Lovera said even though most tap water systems are safe, the country's water infrastructure is in need of maintenance - especially in places such as Flint, Mich. - and federal funding is the best avenue for that. But she added 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 said. “We kind of undermine this sense of ownership and accountability for having a tap water system that works for everybody."

The bottled water industry has spent millions lobbying the U.S. Congress and federal regulators. From 2014 to 2016, the industry spent nearly $29 million on in-house and hired lobbyists.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE