Speaking of things that Americans pay money for when they could get it for free…I heard yesterday about the $15 billion American spend on something they could get for absolutely free. Charles Fishman has written an article, “Message in a Bottle” (which is at FastCompany.om) about our obsession as Americans with bottled water.
Now, I have been known to buy bottled water, I even think I’m being virtuous while doing so because otherwise I would be buying a bottle of Coke. And I am the lone but strict user of the Brita at our house (the sqvirrel is a confirmed tap water drinker). Somewhere along the way I was convinced that tap water tastes icky. Never mind that it’s perfectly health to drink. And did I mention that you can get it for free? And to add insult to injury, 1/4 of the water that is sold in bottles is just re-purified (already purified) tap water, brought to you by the mega-corporations of Coca-Cola and Pepsi under the brand names Dasani and Aquafina, respectively! Nice bit of marketing, there. And we pay more for bottled water than we do for gas (raise gas prices and woo-ha! watch out for the complaining! But we blithely pay more for our water. When it could be FREE. Wait- have I mentioned that already?).
It seems that our drinking all that bottled water is not exactly a good thing. For one thing, water is heavy. So heavy that you can’t fill a semi truck with it, so there a whole lot of 18-wheelers trucking the stuff around the country, burning up a whole lotta oil. Never mind the water that comes from overseas and so comes to us via massive cargo ships. And a whopping 70% of water bottles go un-recycled! All that plastic! (read: all that petroleum!) All that So every time I drink a bottle of water I have to remind myself that I’m actually doing crap about reducing my reliance on fossil fuels.
What does all of this say about American culture? Here’s what Fishman has to say about it,
A chilled plastic bottle of water in the convenience-store cooler is the perfect symbol of this moment in American commerce and culture. It acknowledges our demand for instant gratification, our vanity, our token concern for health. Its packaging and transport depend entirely on cheap fossil fuel. Yes, it’s just a bottle of water–modest compared with the indulgence of driving a Hummer.
Now I don’t drive a Hummer. I drive a hybrid, thanks very much and feel pretty self-righteous about it (I know this may be a character flaw). But it’s worthwhile to examine the other aspects of my life that re-affirm my place in the incredibly consumerist culture that I live in. And to remember at what cost do I drink that bottle of water. It may not be bad for me, but it sure isn’t good for the environment and it’s ignoring the fact that one in six people in the world has no access to safe drinking water (much less the means to buy it bottled) and in an amazing feat of irony, in Fiji more than half the people don’t have safe, reliable water even though they ship to us the ‘hippest’ bottled water in the US.
Pass the tap water, please.
P.S. I heart San Francisco.