Nestlé and Others Cashing in On U.S. Water Infrastructure CrisisNew report examines bottled water marketing and impacts on people and the environment.
WASHINGTON - After a decline during the Great Recession, bottled water sales are back and bigger than ever—even eclipsing soda sales for the first time in 2016. But people buying bottled water might not be aware that it’s nearly 2,000 times more expensive than tap water and four times more expensive than regular-grade gasoline.
In its latest report on the impacts of the bottled water industry on people and the environment, Take Back the Tap: The Big Business Hustle of Bottled Water, Food & Water Watch looks at the industry’s predatory marketing, the extraction of communities’ water resources, and the powerhouse lobbying that has helped bottled water corporations see sales soar since 2010.
In 2014, nearly 64 percent of bottled water came from municipal supplies—essentially filtered tap water—up from 51.8 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, total federal funding for public water infrastructure fell from $6.9 billion in 2010 to nearly $4.4 billion in 2014, a 37 percent drop.
“While Nestlé and other bottlers are profiting off of our public water supplies, critical water infrastructure problems are worsening,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Nestlé is extracting water in Michigan cheaply to sell pricey bottled water, while Flint and Detroit residents suffer high water service fees. These water barons not only prey on distrust of tap water, but they also help reinforce that distrust through lobbying to enact policies to keep the bottled water profits flowing. Meanwhile, residents in Martin County, Kentucky, a poor community with a catastrophically failing water system, could soon see their water rates increase nearly 50 percent, even though many residents depend on pricey bottled water because of concerns about the safety of their tap water.”
Some key findings of the report include:
A gallon’s worth of single serve bottled water costs almost $9.50 — nearly 2,000 times the price of tap water, three times the national average price for a gallon of milk and four times the national average price for a gallon of regular grade gasoline.
From 2011 to 2016, the bottled water market grew 39 percent by volume, from 9.2 to 12.8 billion gallons, while the soft drink market shrank 8 percent in volume.
In 2016, 4 billion pounds of plastic was used in U.S. bottled water production, requiring an estimated energy input equivalent of about 64 million barrels of oil.
The International Bottled Water Association, Nestlé Waters NA, Nestlé USA and Coca-Cola lobbied Congress on issues including bottled water, water infrastructure, California drought relief and a National Park Service policy to allow parks to ban bottled water sales. These companies’ lobbying expenditures between 2014 and 2016 topped $28 million.
Multinational bottling companies benefit from public disinvestment in water infrastructure, as the chairman of Nestlé Waters stated in 2009: “We believe tap infrastructure in the U.S. will continue to decline…. People will turn to filtration and bottled water for pure water needs.”
Bottled water advertising targets people of color, women, mothers, children and lower-income groups. Industry marketing strategies designed to promote the safety of bottled water to people who historically lack access to safe tap water (especially recent immigrants) prey upon those who may mistrust tap water and communities concerned about obesity and sugary beverages. In 2014, Nestlé spent over $5 million advertising Pure Life — the most advertised U.S. bottled water brand — and three quarters ($3.8 million) went to Spanish-language television advertising.
The report recommends people choose tap over bottled water, and advocates for water management under the public trust doctrine as a common resource. It also recommends that Congress pass the Water Affordability, Transparency Equity and Reliability Act (WATER Act), which would dedicate federal funding to our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.
“We need to kick our bottled water habit—but we also need to adequately fund our water infrastructure so that everyone has clean, safe and affordable tap water,” says Hauter. “Congress must ensure that our water infrastructure is adequately funded to protect current and future generations’ human right to water in the U.S.”
View the report, Take Back the Tap: The Big Business Hustle of Bottled Water, at: https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/insight/take-back-tap-big-business-hustle-bottled-water