Nonfiction — print. Island Press, 2010. 211 pgs. Library copy.
Subtitled “The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water”, Gleick’s short book provides an interesting introduction to the environmental and economic problems of bottled water as well as covers the advertising “war” being performed against tap water.
The plastic bottle may appear to be the only environmental costs of bottled water, but Gleick goes more in depth by covering the depletion of groundwater (especially in desert landscapes like Arizona) by bottling factories. The book also covers whether or not bottled water is safer than tap water. In the case of an ad campaign for Fiji water saying it was better than Cleveland tap, that was certainly not the case. (This was later named one of the dumbest moments in business.)
But part of the concern with the safeness of bottled water stems from the fact that it is monitored, in the U.S., by the Food and Drug Administration rather than the Environmental Protection Agency (in the case of tap water). Gleick draws out an interesting narrative on the merits and problems with the setup, which I plan to bring up in my food economics and policies class this spring.
An (underdeveloped) section of Gleick’s book focuses on how Americans and Europeans buy millions upon millions bottles of bottled water out of fear for their own tap water, people in the developing regions of the world die because their water really isn’t safe. He touches upon the question of how ethical this practice is, but never really draws out a question or conclusion. This is not the main focus of the book, however, and instead it focuses on the use of bottled water in Europe and, especially, the United States.
“Think about where you are right now. How far away is the nearest faucet with safe water? Probably not very far. Yet every second of every day in the United States, a thousand people buy and open up a plastic bottle of commercially produced water, and every second of every day in the United States, a thousand plastic bottles are thrown away. Eighty-five million bottles a day. More than thirty billion bottles a year at a cost to consumers of tens of billions of dollars. And for every bottle consumed in the U.S., another four are consumed around the world.” (pg. IX)
And it’s not just ordinary bottled water that is examined. Gleick also looks at the “designer” bottled water being pushed at restaurants around the world because it can expand the profit margin of a restaurant, and how the majority of water bottled under the name “glacier” comes from places no where close to the glaciers it’s named for.
What I liked best about the book was how accessible it is. There’s no complicated jargon that makes it difficult to understand the situation nor is it a dense read. It’s was also fodder for an interesting discussion at the dinner table as well as for my own interest in water issues around the world.