Bluewashing: Why the Bottled Water Industry’s EcoFriendly Claims Don’t Hold Water

As a part of World Water Week, Care2 is focusing on some of the important water issues we face in our community and around the world.

Corporations have a financial incentive to hide their environmental impacts from an American public that wants to buy environmentally friendly products. As consumers have been looking for ways to “go green,” corporations have been accused of “greenwashing” — selling products as environmentally responsible when they actually damage the environment. Today, with heightened media attention on the world water crisis, blue is the new green — and corporations appear to be using similar “bluewashing” tactics to obscure their effect on the world’s water.

In 2008, bottled water sales declined for the first time in years, partially due to the economy, but also largely due to growing awareness about the social and environmental impacts of the product. The industry’s largest players, including Nestlé Waters North America, The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo appear to be responding by trying to sell bottled water as an environmentally friendly product — despite its damage to water systems and the environment in general.

For example, the major bottling companies are using World Water Day to advertise their contributions to water charities in developing countries and to highlight the steps they are taking to make their manufacturing more water-efficient. Yet bottled water is inherently not a water-friendly product. Bottling companies take water out of local water systems and ship it elsewhere — which is one reason that many residents worried about their local water have opposed water bottlers in their communities. Manufacturing the product also requires additional water. And no matter how much water bottlers talk about the steps they are taking to reduce their water footprint, as long as water generates profit, bottlers will never have incentive to reduce overall water consumption.

The industry is trying hard to recover from the bad reputation it obtained from using large quantities of oil, creating pollution through plastic production and transportation, and generating mountains of landfill waste. Today, bottlers are advertising thinner plastic or plastic partially made from plants and trumpeting their commitment to recycling projects. Nestlé even commissioned what it claims is the first comprehensive peer-reviewed study of the environmental impacts of packaged beverages, showing that bottled water has the lowest water and carbon footprint, and that Nestlé’s new bottles have the smallest footprints compared to other water bottlers. Yet even Nestlé’s own study found that tap water has an even lower carbon footprint. And tap water does not use plastic at all.

All of these attempts to sell packaged water encourage consumers to ignore the most environmentally responsible choice: the tap. Many Americans do not realize that as bottled water sales have steadily increased, the federal funding their communities need to keep tap water safe has systematically declined. The federal government can reverse this trend by providing steady funding for water infrastructure through a Clean Water Trust Fund and ensuring tap water remains a sustainable, safe and affordable source of water.

The bottled water industry is a prime example of a corporate sector that is using misleading marketing tactics to sell its products. Read the full report or the fact sheet.


This post was originally published by Food and Water Watch.

Related Stories:

World Water Day: Ethiopian Mega-Dam Causes Global Outrage

Boy’s Science Project Explains Nature’s Role In Providing Clean Water

Bolivian President Evo Morales Leads Charge Against Privatizing Water


photo courtesy of vanhookc via flickr
written by researchers at Food and Water Watch.


Alana M.
Alana Mawson7 years ago

In the Virgin Islands, we collect rainwater on our rooftops for use through our cisterns and the majority of homes have cisterns where the water is stored. I have a filtration system for the water. I tend to take water with me everwhere I go so will freeze a bottle of water and reuse the same bottle over and over. In our climate the water in metal bottles tend to end up as hot water.

I do try not to buy plastic bottles, if it can be helped as unfortunately we have NO RECYCLING programs in use in the Virgin islands due to an incompetent Waste Management Authority which is trying to shove a WTE (waste to energy) plant with its toxic environmental impacts down our throats instead of setting up recycling and the 3 R system.

KARLOLINA G7 years ago

People throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles an hour. Plastic is one of the most disposable materials in the North American culture. We throw away our milk bottles, soda bottles, water bottles, trash bags, grocery bags, product packaging, and more every day without giving it a second thought. Plastic makes up much of the street side litter found in cities and throughout the countryside, and it’s rapidly filling up our landfills as well. All plastic can be recycled. But it’s not being recycled as much as it should be. Some studies show that only 10% of plastic bottles created are recycled, leaving that extra 90% to take up space in landfills and killing ocean life. The bottom line why we should recycle plastic is this: recycling plastic is a good idea. It’s good for the environment, good for energy savings, good for the health of wildlife and humans alike. So next time you buy a bottle of soda or water, don’t just throw it in the trash. Recycle it—and do one small thing for the environment. If you do this every time you buy a bottled drink, your small contributions will definitely add up to a big difference.

valerie g.
valerie g.8 years ago

I'm not stupid, I FILTER my tap water. New York City water used to be famous for its pristine taste and clarity. NO MORE! IT comes out of the tap yellow and foggy, yum! And it tastes of chlorine, horrible. When we stop dumping toxins into our water supplies, maybe we can figure out fabulous ways to Brita the whole planet! Dr. Emoto, where are you?

Geraldine H.

I aughed when I saw the bottled water arriving on the shelves in Ireland.. especially from other countries.... the water in my home is perfect but himself buys water .. must ask him why .. Plastic is so bad for the enviornment...

J Johnson
Jeanne W8 years ago

Interesting article.

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p8 years ago

i drink mostly tapwater because our water quality is ver good.

George May
George May8 years ago

I filter my own tap water now, but till I got a filter I was drinking it straight form the tap. I felt even more thirsty and dehydrated after drinking the tap and always thought something was amiss, then I started filtering it and feel so much better and feel hydrated and healthier. Water should be ahuman right and people should not have to worry about its safety......not to mention having to worry about "hydraulic fracking"....that is scary stuff!

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle8 years ago

I believe that WATER IS A HUMAN RIGHT. Tap water is safe here (except where fracking and mining is going on), and should be made safe by all governments for its people. NO CHARGE.

Carole H.
Carole H8 years ago

I only ever drink bottled water when living or travelling in a place where if is not safe to drink the tap water, otherwise why give massive profits to big corporations for what should be a universal right viz. safe drinking water - better to give the money you would spend on bottled water to charities such as wateraid etc who try and provide safe drinking water to parts of the world who do not have access at present.

Tricia Thompson-Browne
Tricia T8 years ago

I wonder whether anybody has watched the movie called Gaslands? Wow! It seems that 'fracking' is poisoning all the water - if the source is poisoned then it makes no difference whether from a tap or a bottle. Poisoned water means poisoned food, whether vegetable or animal.
Watch the movie and drink Beer (water has to be extremely 'pure' to make beer!!!)