College Students Take Issue with Bottled Water

Published April 1, 2008

College students across the nation celebrated Valentine’s Day by kicking off a celebrity-judged “I Heart Tap Water” student video contest. The contest, in which students create short films encouraging people to drink tap water instead of bottled water, runs until April 14.

Winners, who will receive cash prizes up to $1,500, will be announced on Earth Day, April 22.

Videos Focus on Environment

“Bottled water is not as environmentally friendly as people think it is,” actor and celebrity judge Alec Baldwin said in a February 14 news release.

But the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) notes the bottled water industry is a leader in the food and beverage industry in reducing its environmental footprint. PET water bottles, which are becoming increasingly lighter in weight, accounted for less than one-third of 1 percent of all waste produced in the United States in 2005, the group notes.

IBWA President Joe Doss suggested the students are missing an important part of the picture. “It is about beverage choice, available to consumers who choose, or rely upon, bottled water for refreshment and hydration. To misinform people about anything to the contrary is a disservice and just plain wrong.”

Petroleum Consumption

On February 14, the day the I Heart Tap Water contest began, the University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper of the University of Kansas at Lawrence, published a lengthy article documenting environmentalist objections to bottled water. The article noted shipping bottled water from such faraway places as Fiji and France to the United States requires the consumption of large quantities of oil.

“The production of the 28 billion bottles of water Americans buy each year uses 1.1 million barrels of oil and releases one billion pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” the story reported. Moreover, “Those bottles could take anywhere between 400 and 1,000 years to degrade,” the author wrote.

“We have local municipal water sources that provide a quality product for us,” noted Jeff Severin, director of the University of Kansas Center for Sustainability. “There is no reason why we should not take advantage of our local sources.”

Healthy Water

According to Food and Water Watch, which is sponsoring the I Heart Tap Water contest, “Consumers are wasting billions of dollars a year on billions of gallons of bottled water in large part because advertising spin has led them to believe that water in a bottle is safer or better than tap water.”

IBWA disagreed, noting bottled water is growing in popularity not because of “spin,” but because people appreciate its consistent quality, taste, and convenience.

Doss noted, “In an era of increasing obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, people recognize the importance of water consumption. Bottled water is a safe, healthy, convenient beverage that consumers choose to stay refreshed and hydrated. Any actions that discourage the use of this healthy beverage choice are not in the public interest.”

Doss also noted the students are creating a false choice for consumers. “It does not always amount to a tap water versus bottled water choice,” he said. “Many consumers likely drink both bottled water and tap water depending on the circumstances.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.