Bottled Water Industry Launches Marketing Battle Against Tap Water

Many people are finally waking up to the fact that pre-packaged bottled water is just not necessary. It has even been banned in places like Grand Canyon National Park. Over 90 U.S. universities have either banned or plan to ban bottled water on their campuses, according to the Ecologist, and over 100 U.S. towns and cities have also banned most forms of bottled water.

The bottled water industry is not taking this backlash lying down. Instead it has launched a marketing battle “to turn the public back onto plastic bottled water,” as the Ecologist puts it. In the U.S., the battle is being waged by the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) trade association. The IBWA even launched a YouTube video against what it terms the “anti-bottled water activism on college campuses.” The video, titled, Student Activism: 101, paints college campus bottled water bans as a matter of “freedom of choice.”

Watch it here:

Chris Hogan, IBWA Vice President of Communications said in a statement about the release of the video that a “ban on the sale of bottled water on college campuses restricts freedom of choice for students to choose one of the healthiest beverages available in vending machines.”

Hogan added, “Removing the students’ freedom to choose packaged water is a serious issue. Telling students that they can or cannot buy bottled water is a step backwards, especially with the growing rates of obesity and diabetes in theU.S.”

Looking at other IBWA press releases shows the fierceness of the organization’s marketing war against bottled war bans. When the University of Vermont enacted a ban on the sale of bottle water on its campus, the IBWA fought back with a statement that said the school’s mandate that “vending machines contain one-third healthy beverages, sends a contradictory and confusing message to its students.” The statement added that the decision to ban bottled water sales “also restricts freedom of choice for students to choose one of the healthiest beverages available in vending machines.”

The IBWA is fighting back with more than just press releases. The organization’s website asks consumers to “sign up to support bottled water” by signing a petition. The petition states that the signer acknowledges “that you drink bottled water and understand that it is a safe, healthy, high-quality product that should remain a beverage choice for all consumers.” People are asked to sign the petition because “with bottled water, I’ll always have a source for clean, drinkable water in times of emergencies such as hurricanes, floods, or boil alerts.”

I am reminded of what the comedian Lewis Black, during a stand up comedy act, jokingly called bottled water: “The end of water as we know it.” He asked, “How dumb do they [the bottled water companies] think we are?” Apparently, the bottled water industry, and in particular, the IBWA, thinks that the American people are incredibly dumb. However, they just might be surprised if this campaign backfires…

Photo credit: Flickr user, Stevedepolo

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

35 responses

  1. Utterly shameless.  Talk about greenwash.  These clowns created a product no one needed or wanted, turned it into a “necessity”, and now cry victim.

  2. @f6293b8d0ad9b55654a03c09acb2c110:disqus
    Those “clowns” created a product that is extremely important in the event of an emergency situation (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc.).  You’re saying no one needs that?   I survived on bottled water for weeks when my county water supply was tainted.  I sent a letter to the bottled water company telling them how much their product helped me in my time of need.  A time when the safety of my municipal water supply was in jeopardy and no one from the city was doing anything to provide us with clean water.

    I hope you “cry victim” when your precious tap water runs brown after an event like that.  Why don’t you go drink a Coke and start a bandwagon for people to ban that product? – After all, the main ingredient in coke is WATER.  Still don’t understand how they get a pass….

    1. Oh please!  Yes, decrying bottled water means you want people to die in natural disasters? Nothing wrong with having a few jugs in the basement.  The problem is the total insanity of mass consumption of plastic bottles… same goes for Coke!

      1. I agree that when there’s a natural disaster they come in handy, particularly the big jugs. I have a few jugs stored in case the power goes out. I live in the country, so when the power goes out, the water pump stops. However, what I don’t like is the every day consumption of them. It’s just not sustainable. I have a reusable water bottle that I fill with tap water.

      2. Ever heard of recycling? If youre so worried about plastic then dont buy and stop complaining. 96% of packaged consumable products globally are packaged in plastic and they have been for the past 70 years and thats not going to change ,unless you come up with a unique sustainable packaging material thats enviromentally friendly and appealling to consumers?

    2. That is not what I was referring to in the article. Bottled water is great for natural disasters. I have a few jugs stored in case the power goes out since I live in the country. However, the everyday use of bottled water is not sustainable, and that’s the point of my article. I use a reusable water bottle, and it works quite well. I can fill it anywhere there’s a tap. I’ll quote Lewis Black like I did at the end of this article: “How dumb do they think we are?” He says it all!

    3. I challenge the bottled water industry to show the % sales of water to alleviate water crises vs. just normal sales. I think this is a nonsense argument.

  3. I can’t agree more.  I have been using a reusable stainless steel bottle for years.  The college students would save money after a few uses of these.

    1. I use a reusable stainless steel bottle, also. I found a light weight one with a little handle so I can carry it easily when I go power walking. I figure the bit of extra weight, as compared to one of those unsustainable plastic throw away bottles, gives me an added fitness boost.

  4. Here in Portugal is the same.
    We have great tap water and a lot of no-sustainble bottled water industries.
    Politicians are the first to give bad example in parliament – they decide do no drink tap water.

    1. You brought up a good point. In the states we have a cable channel, C-Span where you can watch Congress. If I had a dime for everytime I saw a member of Congress drinking bottled water, I’d be a very rich woman. Politicians definitely set a bad example.

  5. Three years ago, I wrote to my town council and asked if they would install any fresh water drinking fountains in public places, to cut down on the litter of plasttic bottles.  ‘m still waiting for an answer

  6. The bottled water industry has little to worry about thanks to public water suppliers who have turned a deaf ear to their consumers. Until water utilities figure out that their never ending babble of ‘it’s safe to drink’ is not why consumers are turning to bottled water. It’s sad that public utilities have let their infrastructure deteriorate to the point that AWWA had to ask the federal government for a TRILLION dollars to replace distribution systems that are failing and pose a health hazard. How many outbreaks and deaths can be attributed to bottled water? Public utilities can take create for thousands.

    1. I think this is the best point of the bunch!  Granted, most public utilities are nowhere near as bad as people claim – and some of the negative perception is taken advantage of by marketers.  A sophisticated pro-tap branding campaign could go a long way….

  7. Government authorities should lay down specifications for bottled water and constantly monitor quality and impose ban on certain manufacturers if not up to standard.

  8. We can blame the bottled water all we want but it is us, the consumer, that created the water bottle.  It’s people like, what’s her name…Aniston…selling her soul for bottled water, sold for 10,000 times the cost.  The one item not in the video is it is the highest profit beverage on the market.
    Fiji Water is having problems too, not sure it was settled but apparently, the company didn’t share any profits with the town in Fiji, for that matter, the country, where they pumped the water…go figure, silly corporations.  Then there was the town in the US where sink holes where occuring in streets, yards, etc..  It was Nestle pumping the aquafier dry…the mayor told the towns people to stop using water…so Nestle could pump.  The factory I believe closed a few years later.

  9. get out of your cars, turn off your air conditioning and refrigerator and freezer. Also your heater, water heater, stove and computer. only in mono-think college can you take away my choice and say yours is the way to go. 
    If you don’t like plastic water bottles dont buy them. 
    If you don’t want me to use one, educate me and let me decide.
    It is the most recycled plastic bottle at a pathetic rate of 20%
    You are a hypocrite if you are not sleeping in a dark cave eating slugs.
    we humans are part of nature
    control yourself but don’t tread on me

    1. There’s a REAL problem…  slugs packaged in plastic sold in vending machines.  Slugs occur naturally and are available nearly anywhere FREE for the taking.  And how many plastic slug containers are recycled?  Nearly none, I’d bet.  I’m waiting for the reports on that one…

  10. Public tap REGULATED water is safe – UNREGULATED  bottled water you have no dea. 
    If you want water for emergencies fill up a few old milk bottles with TAP WATER.The bit about emergencies  is stupid.
    Buy yourself a metal bottle to carry when you are out.

  11. Tap water quality needs to improve period. 40% of bottled water is pueified tap water which is further made worse by the reverse osmosis processes.Bottled water brands need to give us water thats less processed and better quality than tap,since filtered tap water dosnt realy cut it.

    Solution: better bottled water, with an intergration of an atleast 60% biodegradable environmentally friendly plastic.

    And stop complaning about buying water people, its healthier than half the crap we drink, sodas etc milk shKes and coffees.

    Buy water,

  12. Who is the major producer of bottled water( Coca Cola)
    Water from bottled water companies usually comes from municipal water mains.This is then filtered with a system then bottled.
    Municipal water complies to National drinking water standards.
    Bottled water has a profit margin of at least 500%.
    Bottled water is a very costly money making product.
    Pollution and carbon from plastic bottles is a very large issue with this product.

  13. Why against mineral bottle water? It is safe, pure and good for health. On the other hand people are drinking sweet drinks a lot and becoming fat and sick. Which king of garantee we have about the sanitization of the pipes the carry tap water? Buy or not must be a personal choice.

  14. Why would a University, concerned about the health of its students, target water and not sugary soft drinks? The same plastic content. Tap Water is great in many communities, however increasingly, our pharmaceuticals waste is being added to industrial contaminants in our rivers. The recent evidence (Journal of Aquatic Toxicology) suggests that even small amounts of hormones, anti-depressants etc. are in our public drinking water. Our bodies retain these chemicals and pharmaceuticals in our fatty tissue, likely causing long term health problems, and very recent studies indicate may change our genes and pass along to our children. For me and my family, we avoid regular consumption of tap water, and love our well water and handy bottled spring water from a source we trust, in PET bottles that don’t have BPA. But for all you environmentalists, keep your emergency water stored in your basement. Milk bottles and even some 5 gallon bottles have things that migrate, I don’t want in my system. And of course, let’s give sugary sodas a free ride. Diabetics know how helpful these have been to their health. Recycling is a pain in the country but we do it routinely and believe it is like keeping the grass mowed, a civic duty.

    1. Who said anything about giving soda a free ride? Soda is terrible for you.

      Obviously tap water should be good water. So you should be working to make sure that’s the case. How do you know your well water is any better? Drinking bottled water is lazy and re-active, not proactive

  15. It is an industry that pollutes, wastes, exploits, fear mongers, etc. POLLUTES – plastic waste, most of which is not recycled; WASTES – It takes at 3-26 litres of water to produce one (depending on who you believe), EXPLOITS – They are charging you at least 200 times the price of tap water; FEAR MONGERS – They explode issues of unsafe tap water, which frankly in the modern societies are very rare. Guess what? bottled water in BPA bottles isn’t so good for you either as it contaminates the water and we’ve also had a share of bottled water scares too. Forget bottled water and the crooks driving that game by trying to charge you for something that is free and by exploiting you and our planet. Let’s invest in and drink tap water. Follow abundance and not scarcity :-)

  16. I find it interesting. When I worked at Penn State University we prided ourselves in the water system and managed it as the precious resource it was. Most college students at PSU found a Nalgen bottle paid dividends as fill ups were free and 5 to 6 bottles of water not bought paid for the Nalgen.
    In a neighboring Bellefonte the kids walk down the street with Dannon bottle water which comes from the same source that feeds their spigot at home. Dannon tapped the Big Spring in Bellefonte to fill their bottled water needs.
    Funny how the bottom line is all that matters and any view can be slanted to line someone’s pockets.

  17. Another issue to think about is the revenue that the municipal water departments lose each time that bottled water is used instead of tap water. Municipal water departments deliver water to your house for drinking, cooking and cleaning, and they rely on the revenue from water bills to pays for the very infrastructure that delivers the water. Municipal tap water is CHEAP – pennies per gallon. The irony is that people will pay 500% more for bottled water and then complain if the price their water bill is raised by $40 a year. The value of water is so skewed it’s unreal.

  18. There should be a general ban on bottled water in countries where tap water is safe to drink. The pressure that bottled water puts on the eco system is terrible and totally unnecessary!

    To survive the industry, needs to come up with a way for them and the consumer to safely dispose off the bottles once used.

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