Bad idea

The water supply in my home is safe, plentiful and cheap. Recent bills from Muscatine Power and Water show I pay less than three quarters of a penny for every gallon of water delivered to my house. This price includes not only the water itself, but maintains the entire water system infrastructure including wells, treatment, storage, and the pipes in the street.

Somewhere, somehow, someone came up with the idea of putting this same water into plastic bottles and selling it to us for a lot more than we were previously paying. This was and is a very bad idea for our pocketbooks and for the world we live in.

Tap water from municipal supply systems in the United States is safe. Bottled water is safe. Much of the time, water bottlers use water from a municipal source as their supply. There is no consistent, validated safety argument allowing either tap water or bottled water to trump the other.

I recently conducted a very unscientific survey of the price of bottled water at a local Walmart and at a grocery store. Prices varied a great deal and ranged from about 120 times the cost for a comparable amount of tap water up to 1260 times. At a popular Iowa sports venue, bottled water is sold for a breath-taking 3500 times the price of tap water from a point of sale adjacent to a free drinking fountain.

People are free to spend their money any way they see fit, however illogical it seems. We should not however have free reign to plunder finite resources and spoil the landscape with impunity.

Consider the energy needed to manufacture plastic bottles, fill them with water, move the filled bottles by truck, train or other transport, cool the water at a retail outlet or at home, and then recycle or throw away the empty bottles. The Pacific Institute, an organization dedicated to a healthier planet, estimates the total energy embedded in our use of bottled water can be as high as the equivalent of filing the plastic bottle one quarter full with oil.

In the United States, we use some fifty billion plastic bottles of water annually. Barely a quarter of these are recycled. The rest end up in landfills or cluttering our landscape and waterways.

San Francisco is the first major city in the country to restrict the sales of bottled water and to move toward a total ban over the next several years. This may be the wave of the future. For now, it just makes good sense that we individually and collectively begin to scale back on the use of bottled water. Everyone can do it. It saves money and it saves the planet.

Muscatine Journal Column 4/05/14