Monday, April 23, 2007

Bottled water as a Christian stewardship issue

The topic of bottled water has come up several times in the past few months. I first read a Christian Century article that talked about how various Christian groups are now campaigning against bottled watter on moral grounds, that water should be freely accessible and not restricted to those who can afford it. Here's an excerpt:
In the developing world, Carmichael said, water is being sold as a commodity where the resource is scarce. On the rationale that bottling water takes water resources away from the poor, the environmental issue has become an important one for people of faith, Carmichael said. "The moral call for us is not to privatize water. Water should be free for all."

. . . The U.S. leads the world in bottled-water consumption. . . . At the same time, one-third of the world's population lives in water-stressed conditions. That proportion will double by 2025, according to a 2006 United Nations report on water scarcity. Water is scarcest in arid developing countries plagued by drought and pollution, such as South Africa, where agriculture fuels demand.
Then Ed Gilbreath's blog mentioned that
our capitalism has become more about creating new markets by manufacturing artificial needs. And one of these “manufactured needs,” he contends, is the $10 billion bottled water industry. Sadly, hardly any of that money makes its way to Third World countries that don’t have the luxury of unpolluted water out of a faucet.
And then the Chicago Sun-Times reported:
It takes 1.5 million barrels of oil -- enough to fuel 100,000 cars for a year -- to make the plastic bottles to meet Americans' demand for bottled water, according to the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., environmental think tank.

The kind of plastic most commonly used for water bottles -- polyethylene terephthalate, or PET -- is recyclable. But consumers recycle just one of every five bottles they drink, with the rest ending up in landfills, said Pat Franklin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute, a Washington group that promotes recycling.
And bottled water is not significantly better for you than tap water. In fact, it may be worse for you, since there are no regulations or standards for how bottled water should be filtered or free of pathogens, whereas tap water is well-regulated. The Sun-Times reports, "The NRDC tested more than 100 types of bottled water and found 'spotty' quality, with a third of the brands containing contaminants such as arsenic in at least some samples, said Adrianna Quintero, an attorney for the group. 'The problem with bottled water is we really have no way of knowing what we're getting,' Quintero said."

As a result of all this, I've been persuaded that this is an issue that Christians should be concerned about. Sure, it's better to drink bottled water than soft drinks. But the commoditization of water is creating an unnecessary consumer product, and evidently the bottled water industry is not doing much to provide increased access to clean water in disadvantaged areas of the world.

So if you drink bottled water, please recycle your bottles. Better yet, just fill a reusable bottle with tap water. Save the money you would otherwise spend on bottled water and direct it in ways more beneficial for people in need of clean water.


Llama Momma said...

This issue is so hard to read about because of my own addiction to convenience and comfort. That flat of water I buy every other week at Costco makes it easy to "grab and go" on the way to t-ball practice and the museum and wherever else we're going for the day.

But the real price of this convenience is high. Ouch.

Thanks for bringing it up. I think. :-)

L.L. Barkat said...

Okay, and a few more issues. Carcinogenic toxins from the plastic leach into the water and these toxins also release into the air when the plastic is burned as kitchen fuel (the disposal-of-choice in developing countries).

Also, technically, the plastic in not recyclable. It's downcyclable, which means it is turned into a less durable plastic that is ultimately neither downcyclable nor recyclable. And this goes into the landfill. And the landfills leach into aquifers which are a water supplier. And so we drink the toxins twice, which is rather ironic.

So, yes, a Christian issue many times over. And a personal health issue too. (which, in a country where 1 in 3 people get cancer, seems like a big issue indeed)

Anonymous said...

Just another reason to drink from the tap, dude!

Tonya said...

Good post Al - just doing a little "catch up" blog-reading here after my lenten fast. Have you heard of bottled Holy Water...yikes! I'm not kidding either, some guy in CA is bottling blessed water.

Gosh, I can't even think what else to say about that...

Anonymous said...

bottled water aside....

Christian groups and aid agencies often drill wells or add pumps to existing wells is developing areas. it sounds great.

but, people take too much water, nobody treats the water, nobody takes it upon themselves to pipe water out to people, nobody treats sewage and nobody is there to fix the pump/the system when it breaks down.

the result is that people die from unhealthy water and from the lack of water. another result is that people have to cut down vegetation and burn it (breathing the smoke) to boil their water and make it healthy. another result is that businesses avoid such areas because they don't have access to basic services; this results in the lack of jobs for the local people.

...unfortunately, free water for all just isn't a proven solution. everywhere we see water managed well and people being served well, we see it being sold.

...and, even if it were "free for all", someone (taxpayers? donors?) would have to pay for the treatment, piping, etc of all that water. as such, clean and healthy water is not free; in fact, it is never free.

unfortunately, "free water for all" means 'no water for the ultra poor'.

brent said...

Everything gives you cancer... can't add much to those points. But I live in Florida - and ice cubes (made with tap water) that melt in your glass leave pulp-like particles that are pretty disgusting - not sure what they are!

We have a 'water softener' and 'reverse osmosis' in our home. (Now my tap water can be consumed without pinching my nose, and melted ice is pulp free!)

Some places where I have lived have very tasty tap water (e.g. TN & CT). I could never justify bottled water there. In Florida - and probably other locales, I understand it better. However, agreed that there must be a better solution.