The Rise of the Plastic Water Bottle

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One of my biggest pet peeves is plastic water bottles. Why are we paying for something that is free? When did it become weird to carry around your own reusable water bottle?

When I was a kid, single-use water bottles weren’t a thing. I grew up playing sports, and we had a section in the kitchen cabinet for all of our reusable water bottles. It was normal to bring a reusable one; in fact, the people who brought plastic water bottles were considered out of place. Why did it become cool to bring a disposable with you instead of a bottle you could reuse over and over again? Where did these single-use bottles even come from?

A Shift in the ’90s

I was curious how this plastic bottle trend got started, so I did a little research. In a word: Nestlé. The company has had a lot of controversy over the years, from their water permits to polluting the planet with their bottles, so I decided to figure out why a chocolate company decided to create a water industry. Nestlé started bottling water in 1993 under the name Aberfoyle Springs. They went to the World Water Forum in 2000 and persuaded the World Water Council to change its outlook that water isn’t a right but a need, creating a market for bottled water. They also have taken control of aquifers to make bottled water more of a necessity than in years past. Aquifers are underground locations of water-bearing permeable rock where water can be extracted by a well. Essentially, Nestlé has been capitalizing on the human need to have water to survive.

Once something is classified as a need rather than a right, that sets supply and demand in motion, which brings us to today. Nestlé — along with many other companies — supplies bottled water, and until we don’t demand it any longer, they will keep selling something that is a right. So why do we continue to buy it? Why not use the free water that surrounds us on a daily basis?

Playing into Fears

I think there are a lot of factors involved, from media telling us that water fountains are gross and dirty to the pace at which Americans live their lives to keep up with the Joneses. I asked family and friends about their disposable water bottle habits, and those who buy water regularly say it’s because of sanitation and convenience. With all the diseases we’re taught are out there and how clean we need to be, some people feel like they can’t trust tap water. Everything is fresher and safer when you, the consumer, pop the seal — right? The first thing that pops up when you google “contaminated public water” is an article by the CDC. We are taught to be scared of water. When we hear stories about Flint or the almost 1 billion people worldwide who live without access to clean, safe drinking water, we are conditioned to assume single-use plastic water bottles are the answer.

That said, Flint and the CDC cases are the minority. We shouldn’t be campaigning to create fear. That’s what it is: a campaign. Companies have been telling people they “need” their water for years. Consider this commercial about Contrex by Nestlé:

You would still burn 2,000 calories on a stationary bike drinking free water from the water fountain in the gym. It’s not contaminated and it’s perfectly safe to drink.

But if you’re at the gym, you may live a very busy and fast-paced lifestyle, so you always buy a water bottle when you’re there because it’s not that expensive and it’s convenient. Companies like S’well are trying to change the stigma of reusable water bottles being ugly or something you don’t have time to carry with you. A standard S’well water bottle is $25. Most gyms sell their bottles of water for $1. If you go to the gym five days a week, you’re spending $240 every year just for the convenience of not carrying a metal one around with you. Is it worth it?

Make the Change

Nestlé obviously isn’t the only water bottle company in existence. Aquafina was founded in 1994 (owned by PepsiCo), Fiji Water in 1996, Smartwater in 1996 (owned by Coca-Cola), Dasani in 2002 (owned by Coca-Cola) and the list goes on. Water is a right, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. In the vast majority of the United States, you should never have to pay for water, especially when our planet is at stake. Next time you’re thirsty, please look up where to buy the nearest reusable water bottle, and never pay for a sip of water again.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

Read More:
GiveMeTap: A Water Bottle to Change the World
How to Recycle a Metal Water Bottle
Edible Water Blobs: All You Ever Wanted to Know

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Audrey Holmes

Based in San Diego, Audrey Holmes is on a personal journey toward zero waste. She admits to watching otter videos on YouTube way too much and having an unhealthy obsession with matcha. Speaking of green, read all about her zero-waste journey on her blog, Green Blue Marble.

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