KC GlobeNews SEPTEMBER 2003 BOTTLED WATER Special Vol.4, No.9

Current events, trends, travel, politics, eco and tech topics.


"You drink tap water? Are you crazy?" asks a 21-year-old radio producer from Chicago. I only drink bottled water. In a trendy nightclub in New York, the bartender tells guests they can only be served bottled water, which costs $5 for each tiny container. One outraged clubber is stopped by the restroom attendant as she tries to refill the bottle from the tap. You can't do that, says the attendant. New York's tap water isn't safe.

Bottled water is so ubiquitous that people can hardly ask for water anywhere without being handed a bottle. But what is the cost to society and the environment?

Whether a consumer is shopping, working out, eating in a restaurant or grabbing a refreshment on the go, he or she will likely be tempted to buy bottled water. The product comes in a growing variety of sizes and shapes, including one bottle that looks like a drop of water with a golden cap. Some fine hotels now offer the services of "water sommeliers" to advise diners on which water to drink with different courses.

A widening spectrum of bottled water types are crowding the market, including spring, mineral, purified, distilled, carbonated, oxygenated, caffeinated and vitamin-enriched, as well as flavors and brands aimed at children. Bottled water bars have sprung up in the hipper districts, from Paris to Los Angeles.

How silly can it get? The K9 Water Company of Valencia, California sells beef, liver, chicken and lamb-flavored bottled waters for dogs. You can even get all four in a combo pack "so your dog can decide..."
It's really all about marketing. Advertisers have done an effective job persuading us that our tap water isn't safe. We're exhorted to buy the one liquid we can't live without from private companies who dress up bottles with pretty nature scenes that contradict the true environmental impact of their enterprises.

The message is clear: Bottled water is "good" water, as opposed to that nasty, unsafe stuff that comes out of the tap. But in most cases tap water adheres to stricter purity standards than bottled water, whose source - far from a mountain spring - can be wells underneath industrial facilities. Indeed, 40 percent of bottled water began life as, well, tap water.
Consumers associate bottled water with social status and healthy living. Their perceptions trump their objectivity, because even people who claim to have switched to bottled water "for the taste" can't tell the difference: Good Morning America conducted a taste test and New York City tap water was chosen as the heavy favorite over the oxygenated water 02, Poland Spring and Evian. Many of the "facts" that bottled water drinkers swear by are erroneous.

While much tap water is indeed risky, the NRDC found that there is no assurance that bottled water is any safer than tap water. University of Geneva scientists arrived at the same conclusion, and add that, in 50% of the cases studied, the only difference between tap and bottled water was that the latter contained added minerals and salts, "which do not mean the water is healthier." The FAO states bottled water does not have greater nutritional value than tap water. So why do so many people think otherwise?

The NRDC tested more than 1,000 bottles of 103 brands of bottled water. The group concluded, "Although most bottled water tested was of good quality, some brands' quality was spotty." A third of the brands were found to contain contaminants such as arsenic and carcinogenic compounds in some samples at levels exceeding state or industry standards.

Another area of potential concern is the fact that no agency calls for testing of bottled water after it leaves its initial packaging plant, leaving some to wonder what happens during months of storage and transport. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment tested 80 samples of bottled water from retail stores and manufacturers. All 80 of the samples had detectable levels of chlorine, fluoride and sodium.

As ABC News put it, "Ad campaigns touting spring-fed or glacier-born H2O are winning over a population increasingly skeptical of taps and willing to shell out big bucks for what they consider a purer, tastier and safer drink." Water bottlers use product names such as More Precious Than Gold, Ice Mountain, Desert Quench, Pure American, Utopia and Crystal Springs. The Environmental Law Foundation has sued eight bottlers on the basis that they used words like "pure" to market water containing bacteria, arsenic and chlorine breakdown products.

The number one (Aquafina) and two (Dasani) top-selling brands of bottled water in the U.S. both fall in the category of purified water. Dasani is sold by Coca-Cola, while Aquafina is a Pepsi product. As U.S. News & World Report explains, "Aquafina is municipal water from spots like Wichita, Kansas." The news magazine continues, "Coke's Dasani (with minerals added) is taken from the taps of Queens, New York, Jacksonville, Florida, and elsewhere." Everest bottled water originates from southern Texas, while Yosemite brand is drawn from the Los Angeles suburbs.

For the price of one bottle of Evian, a person can use 1,000 gallons of tap water in the home.

Environmentalists question the purpose of lugging those heavy, inefficient, polluting bottles all over the Earth. World Wide Fund for Nature argues that the product is a waste of money and is very environmentally unfriendly. Co-op America concludes: "By far the cheapest - and often the safest - option is to drink water from a tap. It's also the most environmentally friendly option." Friends of the Earth says, "We might as well drink water from the tap and save all this waste."

Distribution of bottled water requires substantially more fuel than delivering tap water. Over 22 million tons of the bottled liquid is transferred each year from country to country. Instead of relying on a mostly preexisting infrastructure of underground pipes and plumbing, delivering bottled water burns fossil fuels and results in the release of harmful emissions. Electricity is expended for refrigeration. Energy is likewise used in bottled water processing. In filtration, an estimated two gallons of water is wasted for every gallon purified.

When most people think of bottled water, they envision the single-serve plastic bottle, which is now available almost anywhere food products are sold. The WWF estimates that around 1.5 million tons of plastic are used globally each year in water bottles, leaving a sizable manufacturing footprint. Most water bottles are made of the oil-derived polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Manufacturing PET generates more than 100 times the toxic emissions compared to making the same amount of glass. Making plastic bottles requires almost the same energy input as making glass bottles, despite transport savings that stem from plastic's light weight.

The Container Recycling Institute says nine out of 10 plastic water bottles end up as either garbage or litter - at a rate of 30 million per day. When some plastic bottles are incinerated along with other trash, as is the practice in many municipalities, toxic chlorine (and potentially dioxin) is released into the air while heavy metals deposit in the ash. If plastics are buried in landfills, not only do they take up valuable space, but potentially toxic additives such as phthalates may leak into the groundwater. It's ironic that people drink bottled water because they are afraid of tap water, but then the bottles they discard can result in more polluted water.

Only five percent of plastic waste is currently recycled in America and much of that must be fortified with huge amounts of virgin plastic. One limitation is that recycling plastic causes it to lose strength and flexibility, meaning the process can only be done a few times with any given sample.

Different types of plastics are difficult to sort, even though they can't be recycled together. Plastic additives (phthalates or metal salts) can also thwart recycling efforts as can too high a ratio of colored bottles (such as Dasani's blue containers) to clear bottles. Because of the challenges, many recycling centers refuse to accept plastics. In fact, a fair amount of America's plastic recycling is done in Asia, where laxer environmental laws govern polluting factories and fuel is spent in international transport.

The California Department of Conservation (CDOC) says more than one billion water bottles are ending up in the state's trash each year - enough plastic to make 16 million sweaters. Only 16 percent of PET water bottles sold in California are being recycled, compared to much higher rates for aluminum and glass.

Franklin says one potential deterrent to recycling may be that water bottles are often used away from home, meaning they aren't likely to make it into curbside bins. Young advises people to ask for recycling bins in retail and public spaces.

Alternatives to bottled water - boiling and filtering - are cheaper and more sustainable in areas that have contaminated tap sources. Fill your own bottles to take with you on the go. Spring and other specialty waters can be purchased in bulk.

Cut back on bottled water and look to tap systems to provide daily needs. Incidents of chemical or microbial contamination in tap water are actually relatively rare. Reliable water is currently available to nearly all 270 million U.S. residents.

Tap water does face numerous threats, including possible contamination from the potentially harmful byproducts of chlorination, the specter of pollution and a lack of adequate funding. Governments should focus their limited energies on repairing current tap water infrastructures and on protecting watersheds from harmful farm, industry and urban pollutants. We certainly need to think twice before handing off the public water trust to private companies that put it in attractive bottles at a high price.

Read the entire article:
Message in a Bottle - Despite the Hype, Bottled Water is Neither CLEANER nor GREENER Than Tap Water


Organic Style is a glossy magazine for the upscale organic consumer. It comes from Rodale Inc., the folks who also publish Organic Gardening.
In the Sept-Oct 2003 issue, the magazine asks How Healthy is Your City?

It ranks 125 US cities for environmental toxicity (what's in the air, water and soil and how bad it might be for health).

The article is not too technical and will give readers yet another dimension to consider when they choose where to live. And rankings such as this might inspire cities to consider environmental health when they plan economic development.

Top of the list: Santa Fe, New Mexico. Best in the Northeast: Ithaca, New York. Best in the Northwest: Bellingham, Washington.

Source: Organic Style:

Here's the 2003 list of the top 20 companies in the world identified as sustainable by SustainableBusiness.com. That is both financially strong AND leading in environmental performance.

Companies are chosen based on two categories:
1) they are committed to sound environmental practices
2) on the leading edge of products that support a sustainable society.

2003 SB20 alphabetically:
Ballard Power Systems
FuelCell Energy
Green Mountain Coffee
Herman Miller
Horizon Organic Dairy
JM Inc.
Novo Nordisk
Power Integrations
Swiss Re
United Natural
Wainwright Bank
Whole Foods

Sources: Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire Service.
Progressive Investor newsletter


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A study funded by the US government has concluded that conservatism can be explained psychologically as a set of neuroses rooted in "fear and
aggression, dogmatism and the intolerance of ambiguity".

As if that was not enough to get Republican blood boiling, the report's four authors linked Hitler, Mussolini, Ronald Reagan and the right wing talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, arguing they all suffered from the same affliction.

All of them "preached a return to an idealised past and condoned inequality".

Republicans are demanding to know why the psychologists behind the report, Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition, received $1.2m in public funds for their research from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The authors also peer into the psyche of President George Bush, who turns out to be a textbook case. The telltale signs are his preference for moral certainty and frequently expressed dislike of nuance.

"This intolerance of ambiguity can lead people to cling to the familiar, to arrive at premature conclusions, and to impose simplistic cliches and stereotypes," the authors argue in the Psychological Bulletin.

One of the psychologists behind the study, Jack Glaser, said the aversion to shades of grey and the need for "closure" could explain the fact that the Bush administration ignored intelligence that contradicted its beliefs about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The authors, presumably aware of the outrage they were likely to trigger, added a disclaimer that their study "does not mean that conservatism is pathological or that conservative beliefs are necessarily false".

Another author, Arie Kruglanski, of the University of Maryland, said he had received hate mail since the article was published, but he insisted that the study "is not critical of conservatives at all". "The variables we talk about are general human dimensions," he said. "These are the same dimensions that contribute to loyalty and commitment to the group. Liberals might be less intolerant of ambiguity, but they may be less decisive, less committed, less loyal."

But what drives the psychologists? George Will, a Washington Post columnist who has long suffered from ingrained conservatism, noted, tartly:
"The professors have ideas; the rest of us have emanations of our psychological needs and neuroses."

Source: Study of Bush's psyche touches a nerve, The Guardian. August 12 2003


Folks, maybe we were a bit premature last month when we said that the ozone hole could be stabilizing.

Satellite readings and ground observations show for the first time that the dangerous rate of ozone loss is finally slowing.

CFCs last from 45 to 100 years in the atmosphere. So even if the rate of growth in the ozone holes continues slowing, it will take at least 40 or 50 years before all the ozone depletion stops and recovery begins.

Ozone hole 'could be stabilising'

Ozone hole 'set to shrink'

Hints of ozone recovery spotted

Sara Lee (famous for their cheesecake) acquired Earthgrains, the 2nd largest bakery in the US, for US1.9 billion plus debt in 2001. But in 2000 the EPA had already been in touch with Earthgrains about its compliance, or lack thereof, with ozone depleting substances regulations. In its 2002 Annual Report, Sara Lee reported that it did not expect that any liability resulting from the EPA proceedings would have a significant adverse effect on its finances.

In July 2003 the EPA and the Justice Department announced that the settlement reached with Earthgrains will amount to at least US $10.25 million, $5.25 million as a civil penalty and over $5 million to convert all the company's industrial process refrigeration appliances so they do not release substances which deplete the ozone layer.

57 out of 67 facilities, with over 300 large appliance involved, leaked refrigerants at an excessive rate. Earthgrains had not made repairs to comply with the ozone depleting regulations. The US government regards the violation as having global impact in terms of public health and the environment.

So Sara Lee now has to fix the refrigeration systems under the intense scrutiny of regulators. With net sales for the fiscal year ending June 28, 2003 of $18.3 billion, they now have a dubious record. The US government said it has "committed the largest ever corporate-wide violations of stratospheric ozone protection regulations"
US Environmental Protection Agency July 30th news release

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A $1 mil book deal, zero memory of any "rescue" and the worst book you'll read this year
Hey, remember that dramatic CNN footage of that big statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled by U.S. forces in that Baghdad square a few months back, during the "war"? Remember how powerfully symbolic it was supposed to be?

Remember, later, seeing the wide-angle shot on the Internet, the one of all the U.S. tanks surrounding the square and the whole bogus setup of how they staged the event, complete with a big crane and some strong cable and strategically positioned "citizens" cheering their "liberation" as the statue fell, as just off camera, a handful of genuine Iraqis loitered nearby, looking confused and bored?

Remember how you felt then? Like this little black worm had bored into your skin and was crawling around in your small intestine and you had the perpetual urge to go off into the corner and eat pie and slam double scotches and scream at the state of BushCo's nation?

The Jessica Lynch story is just like that, only much, much worse.

These are the things that make you wince and sigh. These are the things that put it all in perspective, make you realize what the Pentagon and the military hawks really value.

These are the things that make you realize, goddammit, here I am working every day and struggling to make ends meet in a BushCo-gutted economy and all I really needed to do all along to make a million bucks is stage some sort of bogus wartime heroics and sell it to a war-numbed American populace for $24.95 in hardback, and, boom, Range Rover City.

Jessica Lynch. You know the one. The sweet, American-pie 19-year-old soldier and kindergarten-teacher wanna-be whose army squad took a wrong turn in Iraq and was, apparently, ambushed.

And some of her comrades were killed and she was taken prisoner, full of stab wounds and bullet holes, and she was whisked off to a ragged Iraqi hospital and held for eight days by vicious Iraqi guards and ostensibly abused, and later supposedly "rescued" in the most daring and macho made-for-TV moment of the war by elite teams of hunky U.S. Army Rangers and U.S. Navy SEALs. Wow.

Except that it never really happened that way. Except that Lynch herself doesn't remember a single thing and all the nurses and doctors and eyewitnesses on the scene say the Iraqi fedayeen guards had fled the day before the "rescue," and there was no danger whatsoever, no resistance of any kind, the U.S. forces could just walk right in, and they knew it.

And the hospital doors were wide open, and the nurses and doctors had gone out of their way to provide decent care for our precious Jessica, considering the circumstances, and doctors even tried to return Lynch to U.S. forces themselves.

And despite U.S. claims, Lynch had no knife wounds or bullet holes at all, just a few broken bones, and the dramatic and violent "rescue" was really just inane and silly and entirely faked and yet America bought it, hook, line and Rumsfeld, because it was on TV...

Read the fully story:
Mark Morford, September 5, 2003 SF Gate