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New York City: Love Our Tap Water

Leon Kaye | Monday July 12th, 2010 | 3 Comments

More articles on the controversy surrounding bottled water can be found here!

If the bottled water industry continues to grow at the rate it has enjoyed the past decade, water fountains may become the new pay phones.  Walk through an airport concourse or public park and most water fountains stand unused.  Why would future new or retrofitted buildings include features, like water fountains that will only be ignored?  Cities that have perfectly fine drinking water, including Seoul and Amsterdam, have few drinking fountains in sight, and this could become true in American cities, too, if bottling companies have their way.

The growth in bottled water has reaped disturbing consequences:  more energy consumed from hauling heavy cases of water, more plastic manufactured and thrown away, and not to mention the huge markup of products that cost a few pennies per unit.  Bottled water companies have succeeded in marketing to consumers the message that their bottled water is far superior to the tap never mind the fact that that plastic bottle often contains regular old tap water.

One city, however is, trying to bring back the love for the tap:  New York City is accelerating a public service announcement campaign that is letting its 8 million residents know that drinking its tap water is perfectly safe.

New York’s Environmental Protection Commissioner, Cas Holloway, brings up an important point: if tap water is so bad for you, then why is all right in the city’s pizza, bagels, Italian ice, piroshkies, and other foods for which the Big Apple is famous?  New York’s water, which also quenches the thirst of outlying counties, including posh Westchester, comes from an upstate watershed, providing water so pure that it requires no filtration.  So why do people keep buying bottled water when they have an option at home that has almost no cost?

Part of the answer lies in the bottle companies’ marketing over the years.  Going beyond the product placement in stores and messages in print advertisements and billboards, these companies are attending “green events” to promote this very profitable drink.  Coca-Cola, for example, was at the Los Angeles Go Green Conference earlier this year, staffing a booth that handed out literature touting the benefits of bottled water.  Coca-Cola and the bottling industry claim that plastic bottles are only 1% of the total trash that ends up in landfill, is a trusted source for water, and in their view, consumers should have a choice when it comes to quenching their thirst.

So New York is hoping to reverse this trend toward bottle water; more water faucets are provided in public spaces, including faucets for dogs. They are also jumping on the branding wagon with  a full product line promoting the city’s water available at its online City Store.  Considering the economic and environmental costs resulting from hauling water from across the nation or across the Pacific, one of the best financial decisions any firm or individual can make is to discourage the purchase of something that is practically free.


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