Education Resource

Why spend money on water when it can be free?

Image by Steven Depolo

Image by Steven Depolo

This article is from a student at the NYC Lab School. The Lab School participated in a series of visits with Pulitzer Center journalists leading up the High School News Literacy Summit at Baruch College in Manhattan.

As Americans panic to keep up with rising gas prices and global tension over oil, the world is struggling to secure access to an even more basic resource-water. When faced upon a survival situation, access to clean drinkable water is usually most important. People have survived without food for weeks or even months, but it was impossible for those without water to survive for more than a day. Here in the United States, the government has done its best to respect, protect and fulfill our human right to clean drinking water, thus making water a widely abundant resource. Despite having easy access to water, some people choose to drink bottled water because they believe it is healthier and because they think it tastes better. Others however, prefer tap water. "Why should I buy bottled water? I can get it at home for free," says a neighbor. In an interview of 14 people in a neighborhood in Manhattan, there were nine who preferred drinking tap water and five who preferred bottled water. "Bottled water is more convenient and it tastes a lot better. I can just take one with me on my way to work and I wouldn't have to waste electricity by boiling tap water," says another.

What really is bottled water? Where does it really come from? How does it compare to tap water? By definition, bottled water contains natural spring water that comes from the well or other utility systems. Many bottled water companies including Aquafina and Fiji may advertise their products to make you believe that their water comes from mountain springs or the island of Fiji but in truth, their water only comes from the tap-it is pure tap water. Yes it is the water that you can get at home from your kitchen faucet, for free. Though it is true that some bottled water does come from sparkling springs, "more than twenty five percent of it comes from a municipal supply says Jemmott of Readers Digest. Bottled water is just processed tap water that is purified and filtrated. It is the same kind of water that you can get from boiling the water that comes out of your faucet in your kitchen.

There is no reason to spend 10,000 times more on bottled water than on tap water. By doing so, a problem of double spending arises. While the government is doing its job to provide safe, clean and free drinking water to everyone, beverage companies are selling bottled water to people by making advertisements that mislead people into thinking that their water comes from mountain springs. Thus, people are spending money on bottled water while the government is also spending to provide access to water to everyone. Therefore, both the government and people are taking money out of their pockets to obtain water while only one side should be spending. If people drink from the tap, they can save money and protect the environment which then helps with many other economic problems that exist in New York today. Think about it. 85 five million bottles are being sold a day, 595 million a week and more than 30 billion bottles a year. Though many people are unaware of this, they are spending most of their money on plastic when buying bottled water. In just ten minutes, the bottle goes into the trash and not all of these bottles are recycled; some end up on the streets or in parks as liter. Imagine how much you would spend in a week if you keep spending money on two or three bottles of water a day. Tap Water is provided to you at home and is no different from bottled water, though it is true that certain chemicals were found in tap water that may be harmful to the human. Just think about the people who have inadequate access to clean water. Think about the countries that are suffering from water shortages and scarcity. More than 3.6 million people die each year because of inadequate access to clean water and here we are in New York, spending millions of dollars on plastic bottles which can instead be spent on improving water systems or helping countries eliminate their disparities with clean drinking water.

The U.S bottled water market has experienced an unstoppable elevation of sales and volume production in the early to mid 2000's. At this point, it reached a considerable height and was the second largest market in beverage production and sales, following carbonated soft drinks which by far stand as the largest beverage type in the U.S market. As stated by the Beverage marketing Corporation, "Bottled water volume achieved double-digit percentage growth rates in two years and advanced at rates close to that level in several others. After growing by 10.8% in 2005, for instance, bottled water volume enlarged by 9.5% in the following year." However, as the recession hit the U.S in the year 2008, the bottled water's growth streak came to an end. Starting with 6.1% of bottled water volume in the year 2007, the annual percent change in the volume of bottled water decreased by 1.0% in 2008 and 2.5% in 2009. Similar correlations can also be drawn on producers' revenues which also declined in 2008 and 2009. With bottled water sales first surpassing $6 billion in 2000 and $11.5 billion in 2007, sales declined from $11.2 billion in the next year to lower than 10.6 billion in 2009. In addition, "the U.S beverage industry lost the equivalent of almost $12 billion in retail sales to the recession of 2008 and 2009," as stated in a report from Beverage Marketing Corporations. In the year 2009, overall retail sales grew by 2.0%, but calculations projected it to grow by 3.3%. Because of this, there was a shortfall of $5.9 billion in retail sales in 2009 and $11.8 billion has been lost since the year 2007. This set of data helps emphasize how there was a decrease in sales of bottled water during the recession. Because unemployment rates increased, many people had lower incomes and were less able to afford bottled water. Because of this, many people started drinking tap water and thus sales in bottled water decreased. If people can drink tap water during a recession, why can't they drink tap water every day? Does a higher income really mean you should spend money on water that is already free? Why not spend that money on something else?

Although bottled water is preferred by many to be a convenient source of water, it is not the best choice for the environment. Not only is drinking water from the bottle rather than from the tap a problem of double spending, but it is also contributing to global warming and pollution. Because people are unaware of the energy costs and the labor needed to make a bottle of water, they tend to buy bottled water without knowing that the plastic used for making bottles burns up approximately 1.5 million barrels of oil, which is enough to make 100,000 cars a year. In addition to the production of bottles, the transportation of bottled water from where it comes from also needs to be transferred through large distances via truck, ship or transit. Many companies also use recyclable bottled water, however 80% of the bottled water consumed in the U.S gets thrown into land fills, thus causing recycling rates to be lower and more harmful to the environment.

The government has done a lot to fulfill our human right to clean drinking water. However, beverage companies are selling bottled water, thus making some people believe that bottled water is healthier than tap water. Because of this, the input that the government put into providing access to water has created an even bigger outcome than expected. The creation of bottled water not only caused people to spend more on water, but it also brought a detrimental effect to the environment which can in the long run bring about more economic disparities than what already exists. For fulfilling the right to clean drinking water, bottled water has become a consumer good and many are spending money on water when it can be obtained for free. In addition, some other economic costs include money used to make water bottles and money used to improve environmental problems because of liter from bottles.