Oil, water, and America’s price priorities

As of April 11, the average price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. was $3.79. And I hear people complaining about it all the time.

Still, they don’t think twice about spending much more per gallon for bottled water.

During a recent visit to a local sandwich shop, I noticed that 20-ounce bottles of Dasani water were selling for $1.75 each. That’s $11.20 per gallon. Those bottles of water were practically flying off the shelf during the busy lunch hour. And I didn’t hear a single customer complain about the price of the water.

Why the double standard?

Perhaps some people think that bottled water comes from purer sources than tap water, and is actually worth the price. But such an assumption is naive. In fact, the Coca-Cola Company has admitted that Dasani is nothing more than filtered tap water. And, with the wide availability these days of home water filtration systems, filtered water pitchers, and filtered water bottles, purified water is available to virtually everyone for pennies—not dollars—per gallon.

Perhaps some people believe that bottled water is healthier and safer than tap water. This, too, is naive. In fact, bottled water is less regulated—and therefore possibly lower quality—than tap water.

Perhaps some people see bottled water as a status symbol. But is your own personal (perceived) social status, as reflected in a bottle of needlessly expensive water, really worth the cost to the planet and its inhabitants?

The website BottledWaterBlues.com sums up the environmental impact of bottled water in these four points:

  • 60 Million plastic bottles a day are disposed of in America alone!
  • Massive amounts of greenhouse gases are produced from manufacturing the plastic bottles.
  • Millions of gallons of fuel are wasted daily transporting filtered tap water across America and around the world.
  • It requires three times as much water to make the bottle as it does to fill it . . . it is an exceptionally wasteful industry.

So, even if you recycle your own Dasani or Poland Spring bottles, there are all those other factors to negate that well-intentioned gesture.

Finally, and most importantly, if you buy and drink bottled water, you are supporting the privatization of something that is supposed to be a natural resource. And, in willfully paying corporations for something that you could otherwise get for free, you are compounding the problem. If water is something we have to pay for, then the poor will not be able to afford it. And, without clean water, it is impossible to survive.

Do you want that on your conscience?

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: mary@maryshawonline.com.

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