Remember the first time you saw somebody holding a plastic bottle full of water, and realized they’d actually paid for it? I’ll bet most of you can, because it hasn’t been all that long since bottled water became de rigueur all over the country. It reminds Southerners of a certain age of a bit by “Brother” Dave Gardner, the drummer/comedian who was popular in the late Fifties: at Hot Springs, Arkansas, he saw “some o’ them ignorant, stupid Southerners sellin’ water to them brilliant Yankees.”
Well, bottled water marketers (and Hot Springs merchants), it was fun while it lasted, but you’d better find something else to sell, because this American trend is about to become history.
In some unusual climates that we visit, like high altitudes (e.g., Park City, Utah) or arid desert (Phoenix), constantly pumping water is a serious necessity. But no matter where you live, running water through your system all day long is a healthy thing to do, better for you than soft drinks or even fruit juices. What is not good for you – or for the rest of us – is commercially sold individual bottles of water.
It’s not just the costs in fuel and materials of making the plastic bottles or dragging truckloads of heavy liquid to you from Fiji, or wherever. Not just the mountains of discarded bottles that are gunking up landfills everywhere. To put it in purely selfish terms, drinking bottled water is also so needlessly expensive that those ol’ boys in Hot Springs are laughing behind your back – and so is the Coca-Cola board of directors.
Bottled water makes great sense anywhere the local supply isn’t potable and can’t be made to be, where the alleviation of human suffering outweighs the environmental consequences. But not in nearly all of America, and certainly not on the tennis court at the country club. This realization is beginning to descend from the usual tiresome scolds on the left down into the general consciousness, and I hereby predict that within a few short years a branded retail water bottle will carry the same stigma that a cigarette does today.
What will we all do instead? Simple. We’ll use refillable bottles and drink the water we have at home.
Some people may be surprised to learn that New York City, where I live, has some of the best drinking water in the country. But even so, I don’t drink out of the tap. (Though I wouldn’t hesitate to do so.) I fill up from the filtered-water nozzle on my fridge. Most refrigerators these days have one. Every week or so, I wash the bottle. Water consumption: normal. Water cost: zip. Filter change: nine months or so. When I take an airplane trip, I pass the empty bottle through security and fill it up at a water fountain before I board. This is not religious dogma; I’ll drink from a single-serve branded bottle when the alternative is impractical, like at a buffet. But in general they don’t have to make or schlep those bottles for me any more, nor do I have to pay them for the “service.”
At the Sundance Film Festival, high in the Rockies, you don’t go anywhere without (a) an article of clothing that says THE NORTH FACE and (b) a bottle of water. But two years ago, an outfit called Brita convinced Robert Redford and Fest officials to let them give away sturdy 16-ounce bottles to all passholders and anybody who wandered in to the Sundance House on Park City’s Main Street. They also placed “hydration stations” at several strategic venues where you could fill up for free. This year they did it again, and the little green bottles were everywhere – except for the trash. As people got used to reusing their bottles (not recycling, reusing), the ease and convenience sunk in – not to mention the savings – and if they’re like us, lingered after they went back home. If Brita continues the promotion next year, you’ll probably have people asking the holdouts, why in the world are you still buying water?
Yes, the Sundance crowd is the tree-hugging extreme, but forget going green and think about long green instead: I can’t overemphasize the monetary part. We keep a case of bottled water here in case of a blackout (they can’t pump water up high without power), but absent that emergency, it’ll be the last case of the stuff we’ll ever have to buy.
This isn’t hard to comprehend; one day soon, even those brilliant Yankees will wise up. Commercial bottled water has very limited non-emergency purpose for us privileged people in the richest country on earth – and it costs money. It only took a few years for bottled water to become cool. But mark my words: the long con is just about over.
7/13/12: It begins. San Francisco, on the leading edge of so many cultural trends, is considering banning those individual plastic bottles.