As societal awareness about the health risks of sugary beverages steadily grows, so do bottled water sales. Finally, for the first time in modern history, bottled water sales surpass soda. This surprising new statistic comes from a 2016 report by research and consulting group, Beverage Marketing Corp, placing bottled water at 39.3 gallons per capita last year, with carbonated soft drinks at 38.5 gallons. However, while Americans seem to have successfully digested the health warnings of soda, most continue to ignore the global crisis caused by disposable plastics.
Over the past several years, bottled water consumption has been growing 7-9% annually, and has now overtaken carbonated beverages. Consumption of soda — alternatively called pop or coke, depending on where you’re from— is linked with an array of health issues including asthma, infertility, osteoporosis, heart disease and tooth decay. Additionally, high fructose corn syrup and refined sugar are major contributors to epidemic levels of type II diabetes and obesity.
For almost a century, Coca Cola was publicized and marketed as America’s favourite beverage. Now, more Americans are choosing the “nation’s healthiest beverage”, also known as water. The dark side of this seemingly positive trend is generation of more (and more and more and more) plastic— energy intensive to produce and ultimately accumulates in landfills or poisons the oceans. Over 50 billion plastic bottles are wasted every year, and less than a quarter of these are recycled (by the way, recycling is also energy intensive).
And while many countries across the world have now successfully limited plastic shopping bags, strategies to reduce plastic bottle usage are slow coming. The vast majority of Americans have unlimited access to safe, purified drinking water. Even so, our increasingly fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyles, combined with extremely effective marketing strategies, have made bottled water consumption not only normal, but expected.
The ubiquitous opportunity to buy sleek sources of the life-giving substance is just one small, convenient comfort. We choose products that express our individuality, and eat up words like “artisanal” and “premium”. What bottled water do you usually reach for? Are you a diehard Evian fan? Do you like the sport caps and electrolyte-enhanced taste of Smart Water?
The first hope to reduce plastic bottles is the trend toward reusable bottles, BPA-free plastic, glass, stainless steel, aluminum. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite enough, and we are also guilty of needing to fill a stylish bottle with a catered beverage. In this context, what if cafes, bodegas, convenience stores, offered cheap water bottle refills using purified, filtered, revere-osmosis, pH-perfect alkaline, chilled water? The propagation of water filtration systems and reusable bottles, coupled with higher taxes on bottled beverages, could begin to revolutionize our dependence on plastic bottles.