'Green' Opinion - Banning Bottled Water is Lazy Environmentalism and a Poor Business Choice.

Banning Bottled Water Does Not Make Your Business 'Green'

I was not surprised to see and read that some restaurants have stopped selling bottled water because bottled water is considered by some to be bad for the environment. How is bottled water any worse for the environment than other bottled beverages like soda, liquor, wine, and beer? It’s not.

More “food miles” are used in the transportation of beer than any other beverage yet you do not see beer being pulled from menus (thank goodness!). I bring up “food miles” because that is what some consider so wrong with bottled water. “Food miles” is a calculation relative to the amount of natural resources used to transport a product and the distance that product travels from production to distribution to the restaurant. This calculation is used by many when talking about food hence food miles, but it really applies to all products a restaurant uses.

The weight of a product factors into this calculation as well. The more a product weighs the more resources are used to transport it. As we all know, hopefully by now, a quart of water weighs approximately 2 pounds. Bottom line, a shipment of bottled water (or other beverages) has some weight to it. The argument is that bottled water, since it is the number 1 selling non-alcoholic beverage in the US, accounts for more “food miles” than any other non-alcoholic beverage thus making it the quick and easy environmental “bad guy”. There are other factors that weigh into the unfair label bottled water receives; I will get to them as well.

I’m not saying that is untrue that transporting bottled water uses a lot of resources. What I am saying is that if those trucks weren’t carrying bottled water they would be carrying bottled soda or some other bottled beverage. A good example of this is: if a consumer was not allowed to select bottled water from the cooler at your local retailer, what would they pick? 7 out of 10 would pick some other beverage that came in a plastic bottle. A handful would pick a beverage that came in another kind of packaging and rest wouldn’t get a drink at all. My argument is that bottled water is a healthier choice of beverage and having bottled water as an option promotes better health. If you have a choice between a 200 calorie soda, 150 calorie fruit juice and a 0 calorie bottle of water, you actually have real options.

Water is unique because we can turn a knob and it comes out, in our homes, businesses, and just about anywhere there is a knob it seems. We assume that it is wasteful to transport something we can turn a knob to get. Did you know that 17% of all the energy used in the US is used to push, pull, and pump water through pipes to supply homes and businesses? There are a lot of resources used just to get water to the knob. Nothing is cut and dry. Conserving tap water saves not only water but energy. Which conservation is better?

There is a laundry list of things that bother me about bottled water bans or refusals to sell.

1. Americans are fat. If we took away the choice of bottled water what would they drink? Soda? Taking away bottled water just adds to the obesity epidemic.

2. Bottled water adds to restaurant sales. That’s pretty much it. Tap water is free in most places and filtered water costs less than bottled water in most markets.

3. There are people who argue that tap water is safer to drink than bottled water and that’s the reason why they don’t sell bottled water. That’s just not true. They’re both safe to drink. I personally think a bottle of Fiji water tastes better than my local communities brand. It does. The Fiji water isn’t all cloudy and I don’t have to wait for the Fiji to “settle” before drinking it. I have read that in the San Francisco Bay area, there is some of the best tap water in the country. Good. Bottle it and ship it to me.

4. Fluoride. Really? Bottled water is bad because it doesn’t have fluoride in it I heard. We’re moved from “food miles” to quality and health (the reasons I think bottled water is a good option to provide guests). People are saying that bottled water isn’t as healthful as tap water because it lacks fluoride. Well there are brands of bottled water that contain fluoride on the market but I’m not looking for it. Conflicting studies show that we don’t know if fluoride is all that beneficial to teeth and your body. All I know is that the American Dental Association supports the bottled water industry. Also, I have yet to see a study show that the water causes cavities. I was raised that poor dental hygiene and the over indulgence of sweets (like soda) contribute more to cavities than anything else. I’m still looking into fluoride and its effect on teeth and the body. If feel fluoride in important there are other choices besides you beverage to get them like toothpaste.

5. Filtered water seems to be the answer for restaurants and homes in particular as a substitute for bottled water. I think filtered water is great. I have a Brita in the refrigerator right now. It is made of plastic and was made in Asia somewhere. There are some miles. Also, it still doesn’t taste as good as a bottle of Evian or Poland Springs in my mind. This does raise a serious question to me that seems to be overlooked constantly. If tap water is just as tasteful and healthier than bottled water (some people say) then why do I have to filter it?

6. Recycling is the real issue here in my book. The bottled water industry has decreased the amount of plastic used to produce a bottle of water. Other beverages for the most part have not followed suit. If you recycle the bottle made of recycled plastic you complete the circle. It’s a solution; it might not be the best one but I believe it’s better than banning bottled water all together.

I could go on and on about this for days.

This is definitely an opinion piece. There is no cut and dry answer I believe from an environmental stand point. Some believe human health is an environmental issue. Now you have to debate what “environmental” is. This topic can take on a whole new appearance depending on what one considers an “environmental concern”.

Water is a unique beverage in the US. We turn a knob and a drinkable necessity for survival comes out. That doesn’t happen with other beverages. Just think if you turned the knob at your sink and Grey Goose vodka came out. I may never leave the house.

I understand the logic of bottled water opponents. Bottled water is using up resources to package and transport something we can get from our sink. That seems to be a reasonable thought to me except Perrier is not coming out of my sink. The issue is all about taste and the ability to make a choice to me.

It’s also about the overall health of our country. We’re a fat country, FACT. We shouldn’t want to take away a healthier option for people (even if they are prone to making the incorrect choice anyway).

The way in which we purchase and consume beverages is also a big factor. Around 5% of all bottled water sales come from restaurants. Most of those sales come from snack shops and quick service businesses that offer mostly bottled beverages in general. It’s not like the restaurant industry is the major player in the bottled water industry. Ever go into a gas station and not see them offer bottled water? No. Why? Because the convenience story industry is not stupid. Bottled water is one of their biggest sellers.

I just believe there are a hundred other things we could be doing instead of focusing on this topic in relation to the environment. I think it’s just lazy environmentalism. There is a valid argument for not selling bottled water on the environmental side (but some could use that argument against you and say that you should stop selling ALL bottled beverages, including beer… I know it hurts). It’s lazy because no thought had to really go into it and you don’t have to take any action to promote change. All you have to do is nothing. Stop ordering bottled water and you’re all of sudden environmental. Congrats!

I’m not arguing that bottled water is awesome for the environment. I’m just saying there are hundreds of other things people could be doing to help the environment instead of banning or refusing to sell bottled water. Conserving energy, conserving water, using renewable power, composting and recycling to me are more impactful and environmentally friendly. The biggest issues regarding the whole bottled water thing are public health and recycling. If we were a healthier society I may not feel this way about bottled water. If we were committed to recycling as a society, the bottled water opponents might not oppose so much. There are a lot of other ifs but no need to go into them. You have to weigh the pros and cons and make the best decision for your business. I get that, but I have to be going now. I’m parched and the Brita is empty. Roommates.

***Forward - I do not normally write anything as opinionated as this blog is but it was unavoidable. While reading the blog you may have felt that I do not support restaurants that have chosen to not to sell bottled water. In all honesty, I support whatever choice a restaurant wants to make on this issue. Overall, I support choice on this topic and do not support leglislation that takes that choice away from business owners. I recommend that a restaurant not make bottled water an environmental issue at all . It's really just a sales and product decision. If you want to wear your environmental hat there are hundreds of other things you and your business could be doing to improve your business and ecological footprint. Most of those measures are cut and dry, common sense, and sound business improvements. If you want to make headlines, make them through your hardwork, superior quality, and sound business decisions. Making headlines by banning bottle water is doing more harm to the overall restaurant industry than good, if there even is a good side. As always, you can contact me if you have any questions or comments.***

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Tags: ban, banned, bottled, eco, environment, green, leglislation, recycle, recycling, restaurant, More…water


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Comment by Steve Paterson on April 23, 2009 at 2:07am
The time of excessive water markup is over. Soda too, but it's coming slower.
People 18 months ago who ordered Evian don't even blink at 'tap water' nowadays.

Your post Rocks! in so many ways.

I want to debate this so badly...but I won't.
Comment by pubmaster on April 22, 2009 at 9:27am
This reminded me of a sommelier competition a few years back. The winner was the only contestant who recomended bottled water.
Not only do I love the outrageous markup for beverages, it is also a necessary and expected part of the dining experience.
Learning to recycle is a small price to pay.

Comment by Ken Burgin on March 26, 2008 at 11:24am
Good points, and it's an issue we have to watch constantly as customer opinions are changing. Eliminating something from the menu that was previously an easy sale doesn't make much sense...
Comment by Chris Moyer on March 19, 2008 at 5:53pm
Amen! Businesses are charging for filtered water which is ok as long as they are telling the patrons ahead of time but I believe it causes more harm than good. If someone offered me filtered water my first question would be, "what's wrong with the tap water?" That's a discussion I wouldn't want to have if I was a server...
Comment by Jeff Reinhart on March 19, 2008 at 12:31pm
I don't get the banning of bottled water either...are people that are using the filtered systems charging for tap water now? if not they are losing money. Most of the talk i've seen is about how bottles end up in the landfill....to that i say how about we actually put a recycling program in place that works! Now if we could just get beer to come of our taps...
Comment by David King on March 10, 2008 at 10:29am
I agree with most of what you said. However there are options that go against the substitution theory, whereby the consumer chooses another bottled beverage where bottled water isn't available. Everpure, who manufactures water filter systems used in the food industry, has introduced a point-of-sale still and sparkling water system. This allows you to take your city water and filter at the point of sale, add bubbles if desired, and sell in a recyclable cup. This eliminates the environmental cost of transporting water all over creation. And god help us if beer can't come to us from wherever we need!




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