Bottled Water: Under Attack But Not Going Anywhere

For years, Americans have chosen bottled water as one of their favorite beverages.

In fact, a recent survey by Harris Interactive showed that 58% of Americans choose bottled water as the packaged beverage they most associate with a healthy lifestyle. However, if you’ve been following the news over the past couple of months, you may have noticed a startling trend.

This trend is notable not because bottled water has been making national headlines; the phenomenal growth of the bottled water industry has routinely received such coverage. Nor is it notable due to the fact that bottled water is receiving negative attention; with the rise of environmental groups, bottled water has been increasingly under attack. What makes this trend notable is that the bottled water industry has started receiving negative, seemingly concerted, media attention on a national scale.

 

In the News

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) has seen a marked increase of media awareness regarding the alleged environmental impact of bottled water. National networks, such as ABC, NBC, CNBC, CNN, NPR and PBS have all interviewed IBWA regarding stories dealing with this alleged negative environmental impact of bottled water.

In fact, the negative environmental impact of bottled water is the only thing that many stories focused on. ABC News ran two separate but similar pieces titled, “Bottled Water Backlash” and “Bottled Water, Wasted Energy?” The Chicago Tribune ran an article with the headline, “Advocates hope to turn tide against bottled water.” U.S. News & World Report recently had a story titled “How Safe Is Your Drinking Water?” that started as a story about tap water but finished by discussing the topic of plastic bottles leaching chemicals into bottled water.

Unfortunately, most of these stories are sensationalized to sell more copies or to keep viewers glued to the television, while letting the facts slip by the wayside.

Furthermore, most coverage does not mention that bottled water containers are 100% recyclable where recycling facilities exist. Or that IBWA, as a founding member of the National Recycling Partnership, is working on two major initiatives to maximize the potential of recycling programs nationwide. But perhaps the biggest disappointment is that the media do not mention that bottles used for bottled water account for only one-third of 1% (.00333) of the waste stream—a tiny fraction that actually has little input on the overreaching challenge of recycling and waste reduction. However, these facts are not sensational enough; therefore they get dropped in favor of something that will grab the attention of the viewer such as mountains of unrecycled bottles.

Most recently, a U.S. News & World Report article featured a paragraph that said polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles leach “phthalates, bisphenol A and triclosan.”

Fortunately, these claims were proven false by an independent research organization called Statistical Assessment Service (SAS). Only a few days after the article was published, SAS released its own report questioning the claims of the article. SAS quickly dissected the article and showed that PET does not contain phthalates, that bisphenol A is not present in PET and that “no regulatory agency anywhere in the world has found that leaching is a health risk.” The SAS report then stated that “Triclosan is an antibacterial agent most commonly in… soap. There is no conceivable reason why it would be used in a plastic water bottle.”

These stories with erroneous reporting will continue to gain attention. The news business is indeed a business, and it will do what it can to get the largest share of the audience. The only way to battle these erroneous stories is to educate reporters, customers and anyone who will listen with the facts.

 

Getting the Facts

The IBWA has been actively working on a comprehensive campaign to respond to these attacks. Fortunately, others (such as SAS) are noticing, and we’re turning the tide. However, one trade association is not enough.

To help defend the bottled water industry, you can arm yourself with the facts by visiting the IBWA website at www.bottledwater.org. The news section offers position statements, press releases and the IBWA Environmental Quick Facts sheet, which will provide all the information needed to inform people that these recent attacks against bottled water are misguided and that focusing on one narrow region in the vast world of prepackaged consumer goods will do nothing to help the environment.

When we educate more people with the facts, there will be fewer articles written with erroneous information, and the bottled water industry will be more secure. One of the best ways to educate yourself is to attend the educational sessions at the 2007 IBWA Convention and Tabletop Tradeshow.

The theme of the convention this year is “A Place to Learn.” It is, without a doubt, the best place for a bottled water professional to learn about the industry as a whole, and specifically about things like filtration, state licensing, advances in UV technology, hazard analysis and critical control points, bottle washing and more. For a detailed schedule and other convention information, visit www.bottledwater.org and click on Convention and Trade Show.

Bottled water has grown to become the No. 2 beverage in America. Consumers choose it because it does not contain calories, caffeine, sugar, artificial colors and flavors. By educating yourself and those around you about the facts surrounding bottled water, the beverage will continue to grow as one of America’s favorites for decades to come.

Tom Gardner is communications manager for IBWA. He can be reached at 703.683.5213, or by e-mail at tgardner@bottledwater.org.

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