In this day and age, more and more are companies of all kinds expected to be accountable for their business practices. Wasteful and parasitic business practices that were implemented without a care towards the long term impacts on our environment, our health and the security of our future on this planet have abounded unchecked for several decades, especially in the realm of food and water supply.
And it could arguably be said that there is no industry quite as lackluster in the ethics department than that of bottled water. And people are starting to wake up to it.
In Washington, for example, the senate recently passed a bill banning water withdrawals for commercial bottled water production. In this legislation, which applies to all water withdrawal permits submitted after January 1, 2019, they write, “any use of water for the commercial production of bottled water is deemed to be detrimental to the public welfare and the public interest.”
You might be wondering, what is so detrimental about commercial bottled water? Washington is a state full of glacier-fed rivers. Local activists in Randle, WA make a very valid point when they say bottled water companies are taking their water virtually for free, depleting springs and aquifers, then packaging it in plastic bottles and shipping it elsewhere for sale. The outcry from Washington residents is echoed by residents of other states like Michigan, Maine, Oregon and Montana where similar push back against commercial bottled water plants has arisen.
To give you an idea of the impact one such plant can have on a local community, one of the permits this legislation would affect is a permit by Crystal Geyser to extract 400 gallons of water a minute.
Mary Grant, a water policy specialist with the environmental group Food and Water Watch, illuminates the necessity and importance of this legislation when she says, “As water scarcity is becoming a deeper crisis, you want to protect your local water supply so it goes for local purposes. [Bottled water] is not an industry that needs to exist…This legislation would help protect the state’s water resources, helping keep the limited freshwater supplies in the state, for the public benefit and the public good. It would ban one of the worst corporate water abuses — the extraction of local water supplies in plastic bottles shipped out of watersheds and around the country.”
This makes a lot of sense when you remember what we discussed in the first blog of this series: how bottled water isn’t any safer or better than tap water, and a lot of times, IS tap water. According to the Food and Water Watch, nearly two-thirds of the bottled water sold in the US comes from municipal tap water. Yet another example of the deceitful business practices of these companies – marketing their water as fresh from a “spring source”, when in reality, it just comes from the tap more often than not.
If you were to ask the bottled water companies themselves, they would disagree with this. They would tell you their plants are vital for jobs and absolutely vital in the event of disaster relief.
Do the jobs made available from a bottled water plant really outweigh the potential drain on local watersheds and water sources in the age of water scarcity? Do those jobs outweigh the staggering energy and environmental costs I reported in part two of this blog series? In the event of a disaster, couldn’t private companies like us step up and help out, like we did back in 2005 when the hurricane hit New Orleans and we filtered 50,000 gallons of water a day for victims and search and rescue personnel?
In an emailed statement regarding these various legislations, Jill Culora, the VP of Communications for the International Bottled Water Association said the legislation is “based on the false premise that the bottled water industry is harming the environment.” she continues, “All IBWA members are good stewards of the environment. When a bottled water company decides to build a plant, it looks for a long-term, sustainable source of water and the ability to protect the land and environment around the source and bottling facility.”
Sounds pretty thoughtful and ethical, right? But is it true?
This quote brings me very conveniently to my next shady business practice of this industry. This industry which, by the way, sold 19 billion dollars worth of product in 2018 and is expected to grow to 24 billion dollars in the next three years.
Crystal Geyser, which is under the parent company CG Roxane, LLC, is indeed a member of the IBWA. And when the residents of Randle, WA started fighting back in fear of Crystal Geyser’s intention to pump 400 gallons of water a minute from their quiet valley near Mt. Rainier, the company’s mafia-like approach to combat the local community was exposed in a leaked email in what can only be described as the most ironic twist of fate.
This email, written from Crystal Geyser’s Chief Operating Officer Page Beykpour and addressed to “Ronan” (the President of Crystal Geyser is Ronan Papillaud) exposed the company’s back up plan to sue the nearby local subdivision in response to neighbor opposition, and conduct an underground public relations campaign to gain support for the proposed bottled water plant.
You know who else is a highly awarded member of the IBWA? Nestlé Waters North America (Stamford, CT). In 2018, Nestle took 45 million gallons of pristine spring water from California’s Strawberry Creek, a network of clear streams that runs down a rocky mountain in a national forest two hours from Los Angeles, and bottled it under the Arrowhead Water label.
Tom Perkins, a journalist for the Guardian reports in his shockingly eye-opening article, “Though [Strawberry Creek] is on federal land, the Swiss bottled water giant paid the US Forest Service and state practically nothing, and it profited handsomely: Nestlé Waters’ 2018 worldwide sales exceeded $7.8 billion. Conservationists say some creek beds in the area are now bone dry and once-gushing springs have been reduced to mere trickles. The Forest Service recently determined Nestlé’s activities left Strawberry Creek ‘impaired’ while ‘the current water extraction is drying up surface water resources’.”
How’s that for award-winning good business ethics and being a “good steward of the environment”? Are these the actions of an industry leader that actually cares about the local communities they are profiting off of?
But wait, there’s more…..
Crystal Geyser pled guilty this past January for illegally storing and transporting hazardous wastewater that contained insane levels of lethal arsenic – 8 times higher than the hazardous waste limit.
For the past 15 years, Crystal Geyser, which draws its groundwater from the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains and has naturally occurring arsenic in it, would filter it for drinking using a series of sand filters and a backflush of sodium hydroxide solution – this, in turn, generates thousands of gallons of arsenic-contaminated wastewater.
So what did they do with that highly lethal, arsenic-laden wastewater, you ask? In a breathtaking display of careless ethics, they put that wastewater in an “arsenic pond” they created in a remote part of eastern California. Around 2013, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board tested the water in this arsenic pond and found the levels so highly concentrated (8 times higher than the hazardous waste limit) that it would certainly pose a risk to the local groundwater and wildlife. In 2015, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) did their own test of the arsenic pond, determined the arsenic level was five times higher than the federal hazardous waste limit, and they had a meeting with Crystal Geyser/CG Roxane to inform them that they were in serious violation of a few things.
So how did Crystal Geyser remedy this awful situation? Their solution was to pay two companies to take the water away, which, according to the US Justice Department, was done “without the proper manifest and without identifying the wastewater as a hazardous material”. Those companies, which were also charged at the federal level along with Crystal Geyser, ended up taking 23,000 gallons of arsenic juice and discharged it into a sewer at a Southern California facility that in no way is authorized to receive or treat such hazardous material.
For this grievous environmental law-breaking, Crystal Geyser is expected to be sentenced to pay 5 million dollars. Which, lets be honest, is hardly a dent in the profits they make.
There are so many other examples of how these companies take full advantage of local populations and the environment – how they exaggerate job promises and undertake cheap ploys, like donating to local boy scout groups, in order to charm small town officials who hold the key to precious springs and water sources. They also constantly lobby and make campaign contributions at both federal and state levels to ensure the government remains diffident on its regulations.
The first step to holding companies accountable is to get real about what their impact truly is. And then, to stop supporting them by buying case after case of bottled water.
In lieu of these shady business tactics and lackluster ethics, it really makes so much more sense to purchase a reverse osmosis drinking water system and use refillable bottles whenever you can. It takes individuals like you and me, complaining to venues and restaurants that require you to buy bottled water instead of allowing you to fill your own, and making them answer to our demand.
That’s how we enact change.
That’s how we support our communities and our precious resources.
That’s how we make a difference and bring ethics back into our businesses.