Bottled water has come a long way since the first plastic bottle came of the manufacturing line in 1973 (ThoughtCo, 2017). And it is knocking on our door here in Central Pennsylvania. Nestle announcement. Centre Daily Times news release.
Nestle Waters North America has proposed a $50 million plant that will provide 50 jobs and millions of bottles of water to markets in the Mid-Atlantic region. My intent here is not to take a side either for or against the proposed project.
Surely our water resources are precious and have been the focus of a lot of civic activity, non-profit leadership and local government investment for decades. (See "The Drawing That Saved a Watershed"). Much of this work has been done by Clearwater Conservancy (full disclosure: I am on their board). The provision of jobs and the additional monies in the county are vital to our community. We have nearly 28,000 people living below the poverty line--17% of the population--and 2,800 unemployed (Data Source: US Census and PA Dept of Labor and Industry)
Three factors contributing to the rise of bottled water:
The Healthy Beverage Alternative
There is growing evidence that sugary drinks are not healthy and action to tax them, regulate them or otherwise educate people away from them. Bottled water steps in the gap as the "healthy alternative" despite the fact that at least 25% of it is really just tap water (Geology.com). Add to that the public health-scares like in Flint, Michigan and people cling to a sense of safety in a bottle of water hermetically sealed from the big, bad world.
The Perfect Beverage for the Mobile, Health-Conscious
Now untethered from desktop computers, centralized servers, and dial-up internet, the middle and upper-income are mostly a mobile people. The convenience of almost universally accessible, portable, and disposable (recyclable?) bottles of water is a good fit for this lifestyle. We are a forget species. Even with reusable water bottles, we leave them at home, in our car, in our offices, at a friend's house. No problem. Just buy a bottle of water at the next kiosk, machine, store.
Marketing Success Story (depending on how you define success)
According to the Wall Street Journal, water bottlers spent $80 million on advertising in 2015. Beautiful people, celebrities, athletes, and catchy slogans have bombarded our senses.
"Bottled water has become this healthy, sexy thing to drink,"said Peter Gleick, who is the president and founder of the Pacific Institute, and author of several books about bottled water. "Certain brands, like Fiji Water, have become so chic that there's a real cachet associated with them."
Some Data on the Rise of Bottled Water
In 2000, each American was drinking 53.7 gallons of carbonated soda a year, equal to 573 12-ounce cans a year, 11 a week. Soda consumption in 2015 was down to 38.9 gallons per person.
In contrast, from 2000 to 2015, bottled water consumption more than doubled, from 16.7 gallons a person to 36.4 gallons (National Geographic, 2016)
Image credit: Geology.com, 2017
A Fortune article declared in 2017 that "Americans are now drinking more bottled water than soda": 39.3 gallons per capita. And I hardly drink it so someone is slurping many gallons to make up for my old-school tap water habit.
Around 5 - 6% of the plastic in water bottles is from recycled water bottles and just 30% of them are themselves recycled (CNBC, 2017).
Image credit: Wall Street Journal, 2017
Nestle Waters is seeking to produce a certain kind of bottled water called "spring water".
Spring Water Definition (Geology.com)
"Spring water" must be produced from a natural spring. A spring is a location where water flows naturally to earth's surface. In the past, many people believed that spring water was special because it emerged from the ground and had not been used before. However, the processes which form springs are now well understood, and the water that flows from them is simply groundwater with no special qualities.
Conclusion (for today)...it's bed time
That's all I have time for today.
the huge upsurge in health consciousness has caused a race to capture water resources. Consumers are demanding it and companies are responding to demand. Soda and juice production needed water too but bottled water has created a "gold rush" to get the special "spring water" and "mineral water."
Center County's protection of its groundwater and water resources has created this business opportunity. We have been like wise investors, keeping our natural capital abundant and healthy for decades. Bottled water is termed a "consumptive use" and the water would be leaving the watershed (as opposed to watering your lawn which returns the water to the watershed)
This issue will be heating up over the days and weeks ahead. I will be exploring more about the global context and how this fits into Nestle's overall sustainability strategy (hint: they have committed to "zero environmental impact" by 2030).