Elizabeth Royte's "Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It"


Kai Ryssdal: If your supermarket's anything like mine, it's got an entire aisle devoted exclusively to water. Now, maybe I live in a very water-conscious neighborhood, I don't know, but I don't think that's the case because bottled water is a $60 billion a year industry.

But why? Why do so many of us pay so much for something we can literally get almost for free?

That's the question Elizabeth Royte set out to answer in her latest book "Bottlemania."

Elizabeth, good to have you with us.

Elizabeth Royte: Hi there.

Ryssdal: So let's get the first question out of the way right up front: Is bottled water necessarily better for us?

Royte: I wish I had a really straight simple answer for you...

Ryssdal: I was hoping you would.

Royte: Water is a really local and individual issue and in general, I will say that bottled water is no better or worse for you than tap water. Bottled water has basically the same level of contaminants -- things in it -- that tap water does and that the government allows to be in it. Bottled water is much less inspected than tap water, so that is one big difference.

Ryssdal: I can get water out of my tap in my kitchen for a couple of bucks per thousand gallons, right?

Royte: Um... the national average is about $2.50 for a thousand....

Ryssdal: Wait, wait. Was that you taking a sip of water in the middle of this water interview?

Royte: Yeah, yeah, sorry. I'm thirsty. I'm sipping tap water.

Ryssdal: Well, that's good then, and that goes to the question. I can turn on my tap and get, you know, a thousand gallons for a couple of bucks. Why then are people in this country and all over the world willing to pay so much on a relative scale for water that comes out of a bottle?

Royte: I think people are willing to pay more because they think that the water in the bottle is better. It took off because of very clever marketing that prayed on our ideas about health and wellness and beauty and weight loss and things like that and we were told that we needed to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and drink 8 ounce glasses a day and so portability became really important and that marketing worked really, really well. It turned bottled water from a $150 million a year industry in 1990 to a $11.5 billion a year industry in 2007.

Ryssdal: Back when I was a kid, the bottled water -- and there really was only one -- was Perrier, right? In pear-shaped green bottle and it was all the rage. Did it all start there?

Royte: Well, bottled water has been around for many centuries, but essentially, the bottle water craze in this country we can trace to that. It was 1977 when Perrier was introduced and it was very much a niche product at first. Yuppies drank it, it was an urban thing. Nobody was walking down the street with that pretty green glass bottle swigging it, but the water had a certain cache: it was French, it had those great bubbles and Orson Wells did the ads and so that started us thinking about celebrity and status and the big change, actually, isn't that dramatic. It was a technological innovation. In 1989, it became possible to put bottled water in bottles made of PET plastic -- that's the lightweight bottles -- and all of a sudden, it became much easier and cheaper to put water into these bottles and that's when the marketing tens of millions of dollars were spent pushing bottled water on us.

Ryssdal: You make your feelings pretty clear through the course of this book about the relative merits of tap water versus bottled water. I guess what I'm wondering though is do you have any real hope that the bottled water trend is going to change?

Royte: Well, first I want to say that my feelings changed over the course of the book. I wanted to find out how bottled water had become so popular and I realized that you can't really get into that without knowing what was right or wrong about tap water. I think people really don't know anything about where their water comes from. People don't know whether they're drinking groundwater or surface water, they don't know what's in their watershed and they just have a lot of questions about it and they don't go and find out what's in there and it's really easy to find... well, it's sort of easy to find out what is in your water. If you have any questions, test your water yourself. Shell out the money. I spent about $140, I ran all these tests and I was relieved. I was really happy to find out that my water was perfectly healthy to drink and as more people find out about the quality of their tap water, I think that they will stick with their tap water and fight to protect it.

Ryssdal: The latest book from Elizabeth Royte is called "Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It." Elizabeth, thanks a lot for your time.

Royte: Thank you Kai.

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When asked about recycling all those plastic bottles, your writer said only a small percentage of them are recycled because people are out where there's no blue bin available for recycling. Um, what about taking the bottles home and recycling them from there? If we can carry them when they are full, we can carry them when they are empty, until we finally arrive at a blue bin. At least we grown-ups can! It's not lack of blue bins ... it's lack of education, and maybe a failure to make it look "cool."

Many people are switching back to tap water from bottled in order to save the environment from millions of plastic bottles. And a lot of them are using Brita filters in order to feel good about drinking from the tap.

But what they don't realize is that Brita filters are also unrecyclable plastic. At least in North America they are. In Europe, Brita has actually had a recycling program in plastic for its cartridges since 1992.

There is a campaign afoot to urge Clorox, the company that owns and produces Brita filters in North America, to provide the same kind of take-back recycling program that exists in Europe. It was started by just a few bloggers and has spread across the Internet and been picked up by several environmental organizations.

Please visit <a href="http://www.takebackthefilter.org"> http://www.takebackthefilter.org</a> to sign the petition and send in your used Brita filters.

The idea that bottled water is unregulated is just wrong. The EPA regultes bottled water. There are a few very small local companies that don't fall under EPA regulations because their business doesn't cross state lines.

That's less than 1% of the bottled water. All the major brands are regulated by the EPA.

One of the nasty little secrets about the EPA regulations for tap water is the EPA allows untilities to use average values. In other words as long as the average value of the level of a conatminant doesn't exceed the safe level the utility doesn't have to do anything. Even though it may have exceeded the max level during the month, they don't have to inform ther customers.

Whereas bottled water if one bottle exceeds the maximum level on a conatiminat all bottles in tha lot have to be recalled.

There are also 181 contaminants that the EPA has not set levels for. So no testing is done. You should find out for yourself what your tap water has in it. Water companises post their test results on their websites. You should defintely look at them before you make any decisions.

You should also know that a bacteria called sporidia is not removed from water by any filtration or purification system that is used by utilities.

The filtraion system used by bottle water companies doe remove this, as do reverse osmosis home filtrations systems.

If your wondering about the oft quoted
article that say 30% of bottled water is contaminated.

Their misquoting an article that tested 103 Water companies.
30% of the samples showed some level of contamination. But two lines later they say that only companies that aren't covered by EPA regs showed signs of contamination. So the 30% came from the companies that produce less than 1% of your water. So what the article really says is that 99% of bottled water is contiminant free.

Most estimates are that 60% of tap water shows some comtamination. Don't be bullied into a decision by people that are misquoting facts. Do the research and make up your own mind.

My tap water test poitive for lead, barium, tricloremaethane, and copper. Not to mention the trace levels of drugs that have seeped into most tap water near any large city. No EPA test required.

So go out and get the facts and make up your own mind. Do take what I've said for granted. But certainly don't take the word of the anti bottled water group.

As for Carbon footprint. Orange Juice, Soda, Milk etc all have a bigger footprint. Shall we ban those too.

One could appear irrational to be spending hard cash on something you could get on the cheap. But what about taste? Not mentionned once in the report.
Not all drinking water is created equal, especially its taste. If all water tasted the same, I would, just like most people drink tap water, unfortunately tap water here in Williston, South Carolina tastes horribly, and I would venture to say most parts of the US and Europe.

In the US, most brands of bottled water are purified tap water, in Europe, where I come from - Luxembourg, to be specific - bottled water comes from very specific sources and have different tastes. I have been raised on Evian, Vittel, Volvic, Spa, Gerolsteiner, San Pelegrino and the national brand, Rosport. And yes, I have my preferences. If I were put to the test, I could distinguish between all of them blindfolded.
The first time I had a taste of bottled water here in the US left quite an impression: absolutely appalling. If I had to guess what paint thinner tasted like, that water would be my first suggestion.
Some people speak of fads, but I have neither cared much for trends, nor is Perrier even my favorite.
And since I don't drink, I reckon I can treat myself to something more special, even if I have to pay hard cash for it.

If, years ago, anyone ever told me that people would buy WATER in such huge quantities or that companies would make so much money selling it I would have said that they were crazy! Firstly, I would have bought stocks so that I could pay my OIL bill. Water paying for oil - that is somthing to think about. I, myself am a Brita water filter person, and am astounded at how may people are willing to put down their hard earned bucks to buy water of all things. It just seems like wated money to me.

When I was a kid in the 80s, Fairchild leaked its chems into the ground. South San Jose had so many birth-defect babies that the CDC had to come out. When it found Fairchild as the reason, it was shut down and it was nearly two decades before the building came down.

Nah, I don't trust municipal water because of that. I saw how well San Jose tested its water for us. If a bottled water company was pushing poison, it would be closed and sued faster than you could say, "City water's safe."

I understand the great points that this article makes: bottled water is unregulated, and it is a huge concern. I also get the fact that most of the bottled water out there is not really from a spring (artisian??), but just from a tap. But there ARE SOME bottled water products that have valid purpose and filtration.
Companies like Volvic, Evian, Fiji... they all have excellent properties and are far better than the average tap waters. Also distilled has a huge benefit to the liver. No one EVER mentions the fact that old pipes bring additional metal solids and rust into the tap, and removal of fluoride, chlorine and pharmaceuticals from tap water has more advantages, than disadvantages.
If you grab a bottle of Distilled water from Absopure or Crystal Springs, even basic Hawaii water, the filtration on these products make the quality of these waters better than tap.

$140 only gets you a basic test: metals and bacterial. I spent $400 and got my water tested for organics as well. The water testing lab did'nt offer testing for pharmaceuticals, I image the total bill would be near $600. Testing is not cheap.

I was wondering what tests you purchased and are the tests sensitive enough to determine if pharmaceuticals are in your water?

Thank you

Sure, tap water is SAFE, but bottled water or filtered tap water has a much nicer flavor. There are even slightly different flavors to different brands. I love my Brita filter and the water it produces.


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