Thursday February 14, 2013 | 09:07 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

So we’ve all seen Senator Rubio’s “Water-Gate” moment.

What struck me wasn’t “the chug.” It was the bottle.

The US’s public water supply is one of the safest, cleanest, best-regulated water systems in the world. In fact, some bottled water is nothing but municipal tap water. Yet savvy marketers slap nice labels on bottles, invoking dreams of mountain air and misty hidden springs and streams. And we fall for it, by the truckload.

In 2011, Americans bought 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water -- that’s 29.2 gallons of bottled water per person.

A pint of bottled water costs about $1. That equals $8 per gallon. (Twice the price of gasoline.) Tap water, which has been rigorously tested, filtered, cleaned, and sent straight to your home and office for ultimate convenience, costs about $0.01 per gallon.

Multinationals like Nestle (which has owned Poland Spring since 1980) laugh all the way to the bank.

Beyond the waste of money, there’s also the waste of some 30 billion single-use plastic bottles a year. Only about 20-25% are recycled (and those are mostly downcycled into lower-quality products). Many end up in the ocean, later to wash up on beaches around the world, like Curtis Cove in Biddeford:

Here’s my collection of washed-in plastic bottles along just one small part of one small beach.

Worse still, companies now ship bottles hundreds -- or thousands -- of miles to market. Senator Rubio’s thirst-quencher started in a spring in Maine. From there, it was piped to a regional collection facility, then piped or trucked to a bottling plant (perhaps out of state). There it was squished into a tiny, wasteful bottle. Then it was packed with other bottles, wrapped in more plastic, and freighted or flown some 500 miles (assuming the Senator was in Washington for his taping and not Florida). It sat on a store shelf, until being bought by an aide and placed just out of reach of the poor Senator.

All of that, for water!

A year or so ago at a local convenience store, I saw a crate of bottled water shipped in from Iceland. The company's packaging touted it as the “First Zero-Carbon Water Bottler” in the world. So they shipped water, a naturally-occurring resource (you know, like air) 2,300 miles away and sold it as “green.”

The global trend toward commoditizing water -- putting ownership and monetary value on it -- is disturbing. The need to create -- then dispose of -- billions of plastic bottles for no good reason is disturbing. The way that marketing and PR has made it chic to buy some bogus “experience”* of tasting a far-off land, is also disturbing.

At least it should be.

Chesapeake Bay watershed (source)

Buffalo Bayou, Houston, TX (source)

River Deule, France (source)

* (Note: A few instances of coarse language in this video, but very eye-opening. Look how many people end up liking NYC garden hose water over bottled!)

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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