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Marketplace Scratch Pad

The bottled water scam

Scott Jagow Aug 12, 2009

I’ve always been suspicious of the bottled water industry, that it had to be an ingenious marketing ploy tapping into our fear of faucets. How do you know what you’re getting in the bottle? Not to mention the environmental scars, the pricing, the chemicals. Well, a new documentary blows the lid on bottled water, although it appears some people have started to catch on anyway.

The documentary, Tapped, is from the producers of Who Killed the Electric Car?. Tapped is screening this week in Los Angeles. The film’s website tells you how to order DVDs, has suggestions for switching from bottled water and for letting people like Jennifer Anniston and Tom Brady know they should stop shilling the stuff.

The movie’s trailer is powerful (watch it below), but here’s a good synopsis about why you should see the film:

Not only is (bottled water) a clear waste of resources (only 20 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States are recycled…) it’s an incredible waste of money for consumers, who pay more than the price of gasoline for water that’s marketed as “pure,” but in reality is largely unregulated, full of harmful toxins like BPA, and far less safe for drinking than free tap water. (In fact, 40 percent of the time, bottled water is nothing but municipal tap water, freed from the government oversight that keeps it safe.)

A backlash against bottled water seems to building, from an environmental standpoint and an economic one. Last month, a community in Australia banned it altogether, which will save $2.5 million a year.

Today, Nestle reported a drop in profits, mainly due to weakness in water sales. From the Wall Street Journal:

Analysts say the drop is owed partly to growing environmental and health concerns about bottled water — and partly to the global recession, as cash-strapped consumers trade down to tap water…

…last month, in a separate earnings call, Pepsi Bottling Group reported a similar shift.

“One of the first things that a shopper can decide to do is consume tap water as opposed to purchasing bottled water,” said Robert King, president of the company’s North American division, “and I think we are seeing just a pretty dramatic change in the growth trajectory of that category.”

Of course, in many communities, unfiltered tap water isn’t the answer either. I use a pitcher filter at home, and here at Marketplace, we’ve switched to bottleless water coolers. They tap right into your water line. Examples here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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