Sales of bottled water in the U.S. rose 4.1 percent to 9.1 billion gallons in 2011, an all-time high, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation‘s annual survey. Despite numerous campaigns and education efforts, U.S. per capita consumption of bottled water has risen by 60 percent in the last 10 years, from 18.2 to 29.2 gallons per person. In 1976, Americans consumed 1.6 gallons of bottled water per person. While domestic non-sparkling water made up the vast majority of sales, even sales of imported water, which had seen precipitous drops during the recession years of 2008-10, inched up in 2011.
The increase comes in spite of years of efforts by activists to draw attention to the financial and environmental costs of the bottled beverage, countering industry efforts to tempt consumers to drink the bottled stuff.
How can we convince more people to use less bottled water?
Some jurisdictions are trying laws to ban the bottle, including:
- National Parks: bottled water sales were banned this year in Grand Canyon National Park and Saguaro National Park
- Towns: Citizens of Concord, Massachusetts have been fighting for years to ban the bottled beverage.
- Universities: Some 90 in the U.S., including the University of Vermont, Loyola University in Chicago, and Humboldt State University in California.
- Public events: Bottled water will not be sold at next year’s America’s Cup race, or any other large public event, thanks to the Zero Waste policy of the San Francisco Port Commission.
What’s wrong with bottled water?
Some time in the future, people will look back in astonishment, wondering why millions of people shelled out so much money for a substance that could be had for mere pennies, while the bottles pollute waterways and take immense resources to produce and transport. (Did you know it takes three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water? With all that, bottled water is not even safer to drink than readily available tap water.
It all gets recycled, right?
Wrong. While the amount of plastic bottles recycled has grown, the recycling rate has remained steady, at about 27 percent.
Time and again we have seen that purely educational efforts are not enough, as convenience and cultural norms win out over logic and information. Change needs to come from within and from the people around us, working to make a behavior unacceptable. Everyone, from celebrities to teachers to neighbors and family members can influence others and lead by example, every day. How can we make that cool, refreshing bottle…uncool?
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