Sunday, August 12, 2007

SOUND OFF: BOTTLED OR TAP?

It turns out that some of the top-selling brands of bottled water come from the same source as tap water, not from some mountainside spring.

Recently Pepsico announced that it would start placing labels reading "Public Water Supply" on its Aquafina-brand water bottles, to let the consumer know the source. But a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, the company that produces Dasani bottled water, told the Associated Press that the company has no similar plans, and that she didn't think the consumer was confused about the source of its water. (See Aquafina Labels: It's Tap Water.) And it isn't all about the source, of course, since both companies put their water through a purification process before it gets bottled.

We're talking big money here: An Aug. 1 editorial in The New York Times estimated that drinking the recommended eight glasses of water a day would cost you 49 cents a year if you drank from a tap, while the same amount of bottled water might run you $1,400. See In Praise of Tap Water - New York Times.)

Do you think that companies should inform consumers when the source of bottled water might be the same as the tap water in their homes?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at rightthing@nytimes.com.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2007 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a great fan of bottled water (yes I know about the environmental concerns regarding the plastic), I am happy to have an option other than soft drinks at gas stations and other quick stops; while I do think consumers do have some responsibility to know what they are ingesting & purified water sounds just fine to me, I also think Coke should attatch a label letting folks know their water is not `the real thing' in case water from some mountain stream is what was expected.

Dave Hosseini , Sacramento Ca

Susan Hammond, Irvine, CA said...

Yes, I do think that bottled water companies should be honest about the source of their water. Aquafina is my favorite brand, and Dasani is up there too, but so is Costco's Kirkland brand.
I've held no illusions about Aquafina's water source, as the product I receive is bottled in Carson, CA - which is pretty much industrial/commercial/residential flatland. Aquafina may be tap water, but its further processing (reverse osmosis) causes it to far exceed the taste of water from my own tap - and that helps me drink more water.
As to the plastic bottles, I am a vigorous recycler (sometimes I drive my family crazy, but they're learning!) who lives in a city that helps make recycling easy to do. Anyone can follow suit. If no recycling program exists in your neighborhood, get one going by talking to your city officials as a first step - it's worth it!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do as marketing strategies influence consumer trends. Health conscious consumers purchase bottled water assuming that it is form "natural springs" versus "tap water" distilleries or processing plants whose output differs little from local and conventional tap water facilities providing water to our homes. Consumers deserve to know the source of bottled water in order to make the appropriate purchasing decisions.

Patrick Bouvier Fitzgerald Burris, Charlotte, NC

Anonymous said...

My knee-jerk response is that most consumers of bottled water feel - at least implicitly - that they are paying for the purity to be gained from natural springs and mountain sources, and are therefore enjoying greater health benefits as a result. Apparently, it has become evident that the "nature's source" is not always true - hence, I feel the real source should be printed on the label. To argue that the source shouldn't be on the label seems to be an argument for deception. What else?

This question is very similar to one posed in a marketing class I had back in the 60's where it was stated that dairies and refineries sell virtually the same product under name brands (i.e.., Pet Milk and Shell Oil) but they also provide milk and gas to companies that sell under lesser-known brands. The name-brand sells for considerably more money than the off-brand, yet is the same milk or gas. Is this fair to the person buying the name brand, who probably feels he's paying for a better product? Seems like a good parallel to the bottled water question.

Sincerely,

Joe Read
Anaheim, CA

Carroll Straus said...

This is not news: all that is now is the publicity and the disclosure on the label.

Marketing of bottles water has many ramifications: in some emerging countries, municipalities no longer feel any need to build water sources and infrastucture (say, in India) but instead rely on bottled water.

Nor is the petroleum used for bottles offset by recycling. It is a huge waste of a non renewable (and politically dangerous) resource.

And there are imponderable psychological components to this market as well. "Status" and our newfound hhorror of "germs" all play a part. (See "Smart Water.")

I use filtered water-- but I reuse the bottles that have the "sports tops." (Essentially baby bottles for adults. I confess... I am addicted to them.)

I live in a city where the tap water actually tastes OK, so I use it when I am upstairs and far from the filtered source, but I have visited in cities where the tap water tastes truly ghastly.

It is too late to change our addiction to those little handy (and reassuring) bottles... all we can do is demand petroleum free bottles.. and use common sense.

Anonymous said...

Have we reached the point where we won't wash and reuse bottles and fill them from our own tap water? If we're concerned about municipal tap water, why can't we install filters and save money as well as help save the environment.

And it can't be a question of time: anyone who has the time to search the net, to forward 100+ emails each year, who can spend time looking for ethical decision-making processes, can wash bottles and fill them.

Concerned about the environment? Don't just recycle after the fact. We should see to it that we use less of all the things that can be recycled. Recycling is a good start, but it's not enough. We should each examine our trash and ask if we are part of the problem!

Anonymous said...

It is REDUCE reuse and recycle, the reduce part of that is often over looked. As someone mentioned earlier the amount of pollution created in making and transported the bottles was well publicized then people would truly be aware of the impact they and all those that regularly drink bottled water are having. It really is funny, you are drinking bottled water because you are worried about the quality of the tap water BUT the bottles used to bottle the water you’re drinking are polluting the tap water you’re afraid to drink...OY

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