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It’s terrifying how much money Americans spend on bottled water — more than $13 billion a year. Even if bought by the gallon, bottled water costs well over $1 per gallon. When water is bought retail in smaller bottles, it costs $8 per gallon and up.

And the plastic! Each year, 50 million barrels of oil are required to produce the bottles.* Only about 20 percent of those bottles are ever recycled, so each day about 60 million bottles are thrown away, ending up in landfills or even by the roadside. It’s estimated that it takes about 450 years for a plastic bottle to bio-degrade. Not only that, the water gets shipped around in trucks and is eventually refrigerated.

The problem is getting worse, because sales of bottled water continue to grow at about 5 percent per year.

Part of the foolishness of bottled water is that most of it is just filtered municipal water. About 45 percent of bottled water comes from natural springs. But let’s not forget that a well is a spring — same water, and from a greater depth.

It always amazes me, in grocery stores, to see how much sweet liquids and bottled water people have in their carts. Not only is that a lot of plastic to dispose of, who wants to lug all that weight home?

Bottled water has never made sense to me. With the exception of those who live in environmental sacrifice areas, near fracking sites and coal ash impoundments, for example, good water is cheap and easily available to all of us. Everyone, however, should have a good water filter. That’s because filtered water tastes so much better. And if you live in a city, who wants the chlorine?

Before I moved into the abbey, where the refrigerator does the water filtering, I used a gravity filter like those made by Brita. The quality of the filter makes a big difference. Replacement filters for the GE refrigerator cost about $40 each and last about six months. That’s an expensive filter. I tried a less expensive off-brand filter, but the off-brand filter did not provide that springwater taste that everyone loves.

By the way, the abbey’s water comes from a private well, 305 feet deep. The first 60 or so feet passes through soil. Beyond that, it’s granite all the way down. Though maintenance of a water pumping system is an ongoing cost, it’s worth it. Wells are magical. Not as magical as my grandmother’s well with its windlass, rope and bucket, but magical just the same. Being able to have your own well — and with it, water independence — is one of the rewards of rural life.

Why do we do this? What are the factors that convince us that it makes sense to pay thousands of times the cost of water? It’s hard for me to believe that convenience is the factor, because bottled water isn’t nearly as convenient as just holding a glass up to the refrigerator. There also is something ominous about this, as water systems shift from public ownership to corporatization. Eventually water — water! — will become a much greater source of profit to corporations than it already is. Many people seem to have forgotten already that water comes out of the tap. That’s scary, not just because of the environmental and economic costs, but also because it’s yet another way that corporations reprogram us to be thoughtless, throwaway, dependent consumers.

*Source: CreditDonkey


  1. Dan wrote:

    I feel a lot like you do about bottled water. My wife is the reason I buy it, her and the kids. Up until summer 2014, we lived in a municipality that actually had metallic-tasting water that even a filter barely took the taste out. We bought bottled water, but that city had a great recycling program of which I took full advantage. Now, we’ve moved out of the city into an unincorporated area of the county, and to get a recycling container, it costs about an extra $20 per month for pickup.

    In the city, I could rotate the trash pickup and the recycling to where I’d only have to put out one each week. Now, we fill up the in-house trash containers much more quickly, not only because the kids are eating and drinking more, but because we’re having to toss plastic. I try to burn as much paper and cardboard as possible.

    We live on a well now even though our area offers municipal water from a nearby lake. We have a filter on the kitchen faucet, but even if the water is left out of the fridge longer than a day, an odor is easily detectable.

    Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Jeekers, Dan. I’m afraid I am naive to how, in some places, recycling actually is discouraged, by added costs. I’m also wondering if I’m naive about the quality of water available to many Americans.

    It has been a while since I’ve done any research on it, but I do think that the value of recycled materials has dropped and recycling is now a cost center for many local governments. Still, recycling keeps stuff out of landfills, and there is value in that.

    Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 10:51 pm | Permalink
  3. Dan wrote:

    I didn’t expect the water to be that much different from municipal water, but it is. I don’t know how wells work too well, but without fluoridation, I can see how organisms and microbes might develop in it.

    I was also surprised about the lack of recycling out here. We’re maybe three miles as the crow flies from 200,000 people, but that’s far enough to add an extra charge. I don’t see any recycling containers on my street.

    A couple years back, a private sector recycling center that repurposed plastics received corporate welfare to build a business in my state. It was supposed to hire around 250 people. Within two years, it had completely shut down. I don’t think any of the money has been paid back.

    Monday, February 20, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink
  4. daltoni wrote:

    Modern wells are pretty amazing. After the hole is drilled, pipe is driven down through the soil layer until the pipe plugs into solid rock. That eliminates contamination from surface water. My water comes up from the rock layer from a depth of about 120 to 305 feet. It’s free of any organic matter that might support the growth of bacteria. The main reason for the filter, really, is to eliminate tastes that come from the water system itself — primarily hundreds of feet of plastic pipe.

    Monday, February 20, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

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