If there is anything more ubiquitous in American culture than cell phones, it’s bottled water. Not only is it convenient, it’s also a highly profitable industry.
Recent developments, however, indicate that just because water comes in a bottle doesn’t make it any safer or better than what comes out of your tap. In addition, most of those bottles wind up in a landfill.
Taking note of the marketing potential in 2003, Austin took a stab at the bottled water industry -- a project called Austin’s Drinking Water.
The venture was short-lived. The concept of bottling municipal tap water made very little sense. The city would pump water from its treatment plants into tanker trucks, drive it to Dallas for bottling, then bring it back to Austin to sell to consumers and to hand out at city events.
Bottled water is marketed as being safer and healthier than tap water. Health-conscious Austinites are a logical target for water bottlers. Nonetheless, the water utility’s attempt to crack into that market didn’t take. At a loss of $2.90 per 24-bottle case of Austin’s Drinking Water, the city couldn’t justify the money spent on the project. Customers did not want to pay $6 a case for something they could get cheaper in their homes. Austinites preferred their bottled water come from natural springs or have labels like PepsiCo.’s Aquafina that read “Pure water. Perfect taste.”
For those who followed the life and death of Austin’s Drinking Water, the project would portend what came next. Last July, Aquafina added its dirty little secret to the labels of the top-selling bottled water: The “pure” water is glorified, purified tap water. Shortly after this revelation, Coca-Cola admitted that its Dasani was municipal water, too.
Before paying $1.25 for that clear plastic bottle, consumers should consider the costs - financial and environmental. On average, Austin residents pay $3 for every 1,000 gallons of water they use in their homes. If these same residents were to purchase another 1,000 gallons of bottled water, they would need to pay $8,000.
To get their recommended 64 ounces a day, Americans bought more than four billion gallons of bottled water last year. The demand for water also created a disposal problem. According to estimates from the Container Recycling Institute, only 23 percent of plastic beverage bottles are recycled.
Though bottled water may still be more convenient than tap water, it likely isn’t as clean. Tap water in Austin is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which combined have more stringent regulations than those of the Food and Drug Administration, the only government-funded quality control of bottled water.
Tap water is also tested more frequently than bottled water. At City of Austin treatment facilities, tap water is tested several times a day at different locations around the city. Several companies in Austin, such as AMD and Samsung, chose to build here, in part, because of the high quality of the city’s water, which is used in some of their processes.
“We always meet and exceed EPA standards,” says Austin Water Utility spokesman Kevin Buchman.
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