Pepsi Forced to Admit It's Bottling Tap Water
>> By Amy Goodman
>> AMY GOODMAN: The soft drink giant Pepsi has been forced to make an
>> embarrassing admission: Its bestselling Aquafina bottled water is
>> nothing more than tap water. Last week, Pepsi agreed to change the
>> labels of Aquafina to indicate the water comes from a public water
>> source. Pepsi agreed to change its label under pressure from the
>> advocacy group Corporate Accountability International, which has been
>> leading an increasingly successful campaign against bottled water.
>> In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently banned city departments
>> from using city money to buy any kind of bottled water. In New York,
>> local residents are being urged to drink tap water. The U.S.
>> Conference of Mayors has passed a resolution that highlighted the
>> importance of municipal water and called for more scrutiny of the
>> impact of bottled water on city waste.
>> The environmental impact of the country's obsession with bottled water
>> has been staggering. Each day an estimated 60 million plastic water
>> bottles are thrown away. Most are not recycled. The Pacific Institute
>> has estimated 20 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the
>> plastic for water bottles.
>> Economically, it makes sense to stop buying bottled water as well. The
>> Arizona Daily Star recently examined the cost difference between
>> bottled water and water from the city's municipal supply. A half-liter
>> of Pepsi's Aquafina at a Tucson convenience store costs $1.39. The
>> bottle contains purified water from the Tucson water supply. >From the
>> tap, you can pour over 6.4 gallons for a penny. That makes the bottled
>> stuff about 7,000 times more expensive, even though Aquafina is using
>> the same water source.
>> Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International joins us in
>> Boston, the group spearheading the Think Outside the Bottle campaign.
>> We're also joined by freelance writer Michael Blanding. Last year he
>> wrote an article for Alternet.org called "The Bottled Water Lie." We
>> welcome you both to Democracy Now!
>> I want to begin with Gigi Kellett. Talk about Pepsi's admission.
>> GIGI KELLETT: Well, after a couple of years of our Think Outside the
>> Bottle campaign, we have been asking of the bottled water corporations
>> to come clean about where they get their water, what is the source of
>> the water that they're bottling, because most people don't know that
>> Pepsi's Aquafina, Coke's Dasani, come from our public water systems.
>> And so, after thousands of phone calls, thousands of public comments
>> submitted to the corporation, and us taking these demands directly to
>> the corporation'
s annual shareholder meeting this year, Pepsi last
>> week made the announcement that it would reveal that it gets its water
>> from our public water systems.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Now, where exactly does Pepsi get it? Which public water
>> GIGI KELLETT: Well, that is the issue that we're really looking at
>> next, is what cities are they bottling the water in. You know, here in
>> Massachusetts, it's coming from Ayre, Mass. So we want to make sure
>> that on those bottles it says: "Public water source: Ayre,
>> Massachusetts." That way, people know exactly what they're getting
>> when they're buying that Aquafina bottled water.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Ayre being the name of a town in Massachusetts.
>> GIGI KELLETT: Ayre is the name of a town, right. Exactly.
>> AMY GOODMAN: And what happens to the town? They have their public
>> water supply, and they have the plant for Pepsi?
>> GIGI KELLETT: That's right. We want to make sure that -- you know,
>> Pepsi has certainly taken a lead on this for the bottled water
>> industry, and we want to make sure that Coke and Nestle also follow
>> suit. One of the things that we're finding as we're talking to people
>> about this issue on the street is that they don't know where the water
>> is coming from. And the bottled water corporations have spent tens of
>> millions of dollars on ads that make people think that bottled water
>> is somehow better, cleaner, safer than our public water systems. And
>> in reality, we know that that's not true. And so, we want to make sure
>> that we're increasing our people's confidence in their public water
>> systems once again and knowing that we need to be investing in our
>> public systems.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Gigi, can you go further on who owns what? You mention
>> Nestle. What does Nestle own?
>> GIGI KELLETT: Nestle owns several dozen brands of bottled water. The
>> bottled water brand they source from our public water systems is
>> called Nestle Pure Life. They also own Poland Spring, Ozarka,
>> Arrowhead. The list goes on. And regionally, it's distributed across
>> the country. And then we also have Coca-Cola, which bottles Dasani
>> water, and, of course, Pepsi with Aquafina.
>> AMY GOODMAN: And when it comes to being tap water, what is the
>> difference between plain tap water and distilled water from these
>> public sources.
>> GIGI KELLETT: Well, there's very little difference. You know, our
>> public water systems go through a very rigorous testing and monitoring
>> system and is tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. So we
>> want to make sure that people know that our public water systems are
>> much better regulated than these bottled water brands, which don't
>> have to go through the same rigorous type of process.
>> AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Gigi Kellett, associate campaigns
>> director of Corporate Accountability International. Michael Blanding,
>> a freelance writer, has written the piece "The Bottled Water Lie."
>> Michael, what is the lie?
>> MICHAEL BLANDING: Well, there are actually several lies, I think, that
>> the bottled water companies perpetrate, but I think the main one is
>> exactly what Gigi said, that this image bolstered by, you know,
>> millions and millions of dollars of advertising that bottled water is
>> somehow better for you, it tastes better, it's more pure. And in many
>> cases, that's simply not true. People are paying enormous premiums for
>> bottled water and don't even realize the fact that in many cases not
>> only does tap water taste the same, but that it's actually more
>> tightly regulated and actually healthier for you. There have been, you
>> know, several cases of bottled water that's actually been contaminated
>> and found to contain hazardous chemicals. And tap water, there's
>> actually a rigorous testing and monitoring of the water supply that
>> actually in many cases makes it healthier.
>> AMY GOODMAN: When we come back from break, I want to talk about some
>> of those cases of contamination, but also talk about the community
>> struggles that are working to take back their water supply. Our guests
>> are Michael Blanding, who wrote "The Bottled Water Lie," and Gigi
>> Kellett of Corporate Accountability International. Stay with us.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Now, Michael, you begin your piece by talking about
>> Antonia Mahoney. Talk about who she is.
>> MICHAEL BLANDING: She was someone who was just walking down the street
>> in downtown Boston when the folks at Corporate Accountability -- Gigi
>> and the folks in her group -- were holding something called the Tap
>> Water Challenge, which was a taste test between tap water and various
>> bottled water brands, Aquafina and Dasani. And I stood there during
>> the afternoon and watched many people come up who were bottled water
>> drinkers and could swear that they could tell the difference and that
>> they could recognize their brand.
>> And Antonia Mahoney was one of those who -- she actually had given off
>> drinking tap water a few years ago and was drinking only Poland Spring
>> and knew that she would be able to tell Poland Spring from all the
>> other types of water that she was drinking there. And it turned out
>> that what she thought was Poland Spring was actually the tap water
>> from Boston, the good old tap water, which -- we actually have very
>> good tap water that comes from western Mass here. So she was very
>> surprised and shocked, and decided right there that she was going to
>> leave off her contract of paying $30 a month for Poland Spring water,
>> which she got delivered to her house. So it was very -- and there were
>> other experiences like that during the day that I witnessed.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Michael, you write about the problems of a suspected
>> carcinogen chemical, bromate. You talk about the contamination of
>> Dasani water, owned by Coca-Cola, in 2004. Explain what the problems
>> are, the contamination issues.
>> MICHAEL BLANDING: So, ironically, one of the processes that actually
>> takes the tap water and purifies it -- it's called ozonation -- can
>> actually in some cases have a byproduct, which is bromate, which is,
>> as you say, a suspected carcinogen. And the largest case of
>> contamination was in the U.K. in 2004, right when Dasani launched in
>> the United Kingdom. They had something like a half-million bottles of
>> Dasani water actually found to be contaminated, and people were
>> getting sick. And it's just indicative of the lack of controls and the
>> lack of monitoring that you find with bottled water.
>> And it's not an isolated case. There have been many others that have
>> occurred. Most recently up in Upstate New York, with an independent
>> bottled water company, there were multiple cases of bromate
>> contamination, as well.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the issue of filtering? First of all,
>> I don't know if people realize when something says "public water
>> source" that it means tap water. But then, what it means for that tap
>> water to be filtered -- you talk about additional techniques like
>> MICHAEL BLANDING: Right, yeah. So there are various techniques that
>> the companies use, and they tout them as these proprietary techniques
>> that they go through seven different phases of filtering, and all the
>> rest of it. And when you look at it, though -- reverse osmosis is the
>> main one, which is basically just pushing water through a membrane to
>> remove contaminants, and it's actually very similar to the type of
>> process that can be found in home water filters, just the kind that
>> you attach to your tap for a couple of hundred bucks. So -- it's not
>> as sophisticated as they might pretend that it is.
>> AMY GOODMAN: And internationally, the movements, from Bolivia to Peru,
>> La Paz, all over.
>> MICHAEL BLANDING: Yeah. What's interesting is that, here in the United
>> States, there are several communities that have actually had plants
>> take a lot of water from their groundwater up in Michigan where they
>> can actually see the water level of one of their streams declining
>> because of the massive amount that Nestle was taking from their water.
>> And it's even a more critical issue in other countries where water
>> scarcity is a real problem, so places like India, where Coca-Cola and
>> Pepsi have actually really depleted communities, and farmers have been
>> unable to grow their crops, it's kind of been a double whammy. They've
>> taken the water, and then the water that they -- the waste water
>> they've dumped back has been polluted, in many cases. And so, that's
>> one issue, is just the depletion of water from the plants themselves.
>> And then the other issue, which I know Gigi could talk about, is just
>> the perception that comes across that somehow tap water is --
>> municipal water is somehow not as good as water that's been
>> privatized. And so, you have -- it sort of starts this steady creep of
>> where privatization of water sources becomes OK. And there have been
>> many communities, like in Bolivia, where water supplies have been
>> privatized and have been sold back to -- water that was previously
>> free has, you know, skyrocketed in price. And people have taken to the
>> streets and protested and actually got the private companies to leave.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Gigi Kellett, let's talk about the tainting of the image
>> of the municipal water supply in this country, the effect of the
>> bottled water advertising industry campaigns.
>> GIGI KELLETT: Well, this is something that's of real concern to our
>> organization and our members and activists across the country, because
>> we are seeing this -- who are we turning to to provide our drinking
>> water? And there are -- these bottled water corporations are spending
>> tens of millions of dollars every year on ads that effectively
>> undermine people's confidence in their water.
>> There was actually a poll done by the University of Arkansas earlier
>> this year that found young people tend to choose bottled water over
>> tap water, because they feel it's somehow cleaner or better than their
>> public water systems. And as we've already mentioned here, we know
>> that in reality that's not true. So there is a real concern about the
>> impact that these bottled water corporations are having on the way we
>> think about water.
>> And our Think Outside the Bottle campaign is aiming to change that,
>> and we're having real success with cities like San Francisco and Ann
>> Arbor, Mich., and New York City, taking a lead on putting their public
>> water systems back in the forefront and not contracting with bottled
>> water corporations, for example, like in Salt Lake City and in San
>> Francisco. And we're seeing restaurants turn to the tap in lieu of
>> bottled water. So there's a lot that people are starting to look at in
>> terms of this industry and what changes we can make to promote our own
>> public water systems here in this country and make sure that they have
>> the funding they need to thrive, and that also we're looking
>> internationally to make sure that countries that may be cash-strapped
>> also have the resources they need to have good, strong public water
>> systems and not turn to privatization.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Gigi, tell us about what happened in Salt Lake City and
>> in San Francisco, with the mayor announcing that city money cannot be
>> used to buy bottled water.
>> GIGI KELLETT: That's right. You know, the mayor of San Francisco,
>> Gavin Newsom, after we had been working with his staff there, working
>> with the San Francisco Department of the Environment and the San
>> Francisco Public Utilities Commission, they looked at how much money
>> they were spending on bottled water every year. It was close to a
>> half-million dollars. And they said, "We're the forefront. We're
>> cities. We're the forefront of ensuring that people have access to
>> good, safe, clean water. And we're also now at the forefront of
>> dealing with the waste that results from the bottled water industry.
>> So we need to take a stand as a city." And in June, Mayor Newsom
>> issued an executive order saying that the city would no longer be
>> buying bottled water. And he joined with the mayor of Salt Lake City,
>> Rocky Anderson, and also the mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak, to put
>> forward a resolution at the U.S. Conference of Mayors calling on a
>> study to really look at what are the impacts of bottled water on our
>> municipal waste. So it's a real great leadership that we're seeing of
>> these cities.
>> AMY GOODMAN: And, Gigi, what about the effect that the water in the
>> plastic bottle has? Is there any kind of leeching out? People think
>> that they're getting healthier water in all sorts of ways, but what
>> about the impact of that plastic?
>> GIGI KELLETT: Well, there are a number of concerns about the impact of
>> the plastic, yes, of course, in the leeching. These bottles that are
>> made are single-serve bottles, so they're not intended to be reused,
>> because of the potential for leeching of the plastic into -- when
>> you're drinking the water. And then, of course, there are the
>> environmental impacts of the bottles that are ending up in our
>> landfills and on the side of the road as litter. They're not being
>> recycled. Only about 23 percent of these plastic bottles are being
>> recycled. So it's a huge impact for our environment and, of course,
>> for people's health. So we want people to be looking at turning back
>> to the tap and thinking outside the bottle.
>> Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news
>> program, Democracy Now!
>> © 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.