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5 Reasons to Say No to Bottled Water Forever | Part Three | Shady Business Practices

Reason #4. Shady Business Ethics & Practices

 

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.

5 Reasons to Say No to Bottled Water Forever | Part Two | Bad for the Environment

 

Thank you for checking back in with this week’s continuation of our “Say No to Bottled Water” blogs series. This week’s Reason #3 is so immense that it deserves its very own blog solely unto itself. We hope you learn something valuable here and be sure to share this so others discover the truth behind the convenience.

3. Its [really] bad for the environment.

 

The first aspect of the intense environmental impact of bottled water is the production of it and all that goes into it. Then, once it’s produced and consumed by us, where it ends up at adds a whole other dimension. 

In 2017, the US produced 35.4 million tons of plastic. Of that, 77% ended up in landfills and only 8% was recycled.

The recycling rate is a good deal higher when it comes to PET bottles and jars (which is one of the main materials used for bottled water) at 29%. However that still means that of every ten bottles of water you and your family consume, only 3 get recycled. The rest end up in a landfill where they never go away and just break down into smaller pieces, that then attract those PBT chemicals mentioned earlier – which get into our waterways, contaminate our soil, sickening the animals and plants that we then eat.

 


One of the ways in which we’ve tried to innovate management of this problem is something called waste-to-energy technology where we essentially burn the plastic for fuel. We do this for about 12 percent of our plastic here in the U.S. The problem is, this process can release dioxins, acid gases and heavy metals into the air. Some experts lobby fiercely against this technology, saying we’re simply trading one type of pollution for another.

And then there’s the stuff that ends up in the ocean. According to the Ocean Conservancy, “Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic flows into the ocean every year, most from mismanaged waste streams on land.” 

Take, for example, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, whose volume of garbage equates to about the same weight as 500 Jumbo Jets and covers a surface area that’s two times the size of the state of Texas. It’s estimated (conservatively, I might add) that there’s about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic floating in this patch, which The Ocean Cleanup describes as “a plastic count that is equivalent to 250 pieces of debris for every human in the world.”

 

 

And we’ve just covered where plastic ends up. We haven’t even touched on the environmental impact of its genesis.

Bottled water, it turns out, is an energy-hungry product. First of all, energy is needed to find the water source, capture it, and send it to the bottling plant. Then, once there, energy is needed to cool the water, package it and transport it to all us happy-go-lucky, and highly convenienced consumers.

While there’s a bunch of factors that impact the true cost of all of this, like the distance of the consumer to the water source and the water source to the bottling plant, as well as the type of packaging materials used, etc – one group, the Pacific Institute, did a very detailed assessment that spanned several years on only two facets of this energy drain: (1) the making of the plastic materials themselves and (2) the formation of that plastic into the bottles we actually use here in the US.  They found that for these two tiny variables alone, it takes 17 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic that made up the bottled water supply that Americans consumed in a year. The researchers of the Pacific Institute put it in perspective when they write that that amount is approximately “enough energy to fuel more than 1 million American cars and light trucks for a year.”

Remember PET or Polyethylene terephthalate, one of the fun chemicals I mentioned plastic is composed of in part one of this blog series? Turns out it is produced from fossil fuels – petroleum and natural gas primarily, though it also uses several other types of energy as well. 


Brace yourself, I’m going to throw a series of numbers at ya: since the mid-2000’s we produce approximately one million metric tons of PET in a year specifically for bottled water. The European plastics manufacturing industry found that producing one ton of PET resin requires 103,000 MJ of energy, which includes the energy of transporting the resin and then turning it into bottles. 


That means one million tons of PET, like that which we use in a year, requires roughly 100 billion MJ of energy. One barrel of oil contains around 6000 MJ, so producing those bottles requires 17 million barrels of oil. And as previously mentioned, that’s the same amount of energy used up by one million American cars running for a year. Math is fun, isn’t it? Maybe a little sobering in this case.

And remember, this number doesn’t even include the energy needed to then pump the water, process it, transfer it and refrigerate it. By some estimates that I looked up, we use approximately an additional 50 million barrels of oil to accomplish that feat.


And all this for what? For a resource that we are blessed to have available to us for free in this country.  A resource that city services and companies like ours endeavor to make safe and available for you with a fraction of the cost, when all’s said and done.

Are the practices of this seemingly simple product really in alignment with our values as a culture? Especially here in Idaho, where we have a smaller community and understand the value of the Earth’s natural splendor and abundance. I would think not, but we all have to make that decision for ourselves. We hope this blog and the others still yet to come helps inform that decision a little more towards the side of long term sustainability.