Drink from the Sink or Let the Plastic Sink

Thank you fashion scene for making “going green” trendy! What started as youth’s interest in organic cotton and locally grown foods has grown into a full-scale obsession with the eco-friendly lifestyle. Recycling and environmental conservation has become popular, and water conservation has been added to the list. High school campuses have made recycling a sole part of many service clubs, and we are seeing more stainless steel canteens in college-students’ organic hemp backpacks.

To help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the “My Clean Water Act” organization teamed up with UC Irvine’s Theta Psi to screen the film “Tapped,” introducing the bottled water issue to the student body. Other UC campuses will be included in the water conservation scene when My Clean Water Act Bus tour launches from UCI on April 5.

When we really give it a thought, we know that when we buy bottled water we are paying for merely a filtered version of what we can get from our tap. What may be news to some of us though is that the bottled water we are spending 1,900 times the cost of tap water on is less filtered and less safe than the water we drink straight out of the faucet. It is no surprise however that the marketing sector has brainwashed us into thinking our municipal water is not safe to drink and that we must be dependent on bottled water.

Basically, when large scale companies like Nestle, Pepsi and Coke began to lose sales on soft drinks, they advertised the value of water like crazy. You remember those Aquafina “drink to life” commercials that got the consumer to thinking, “I need to live a healthy lifestyle; here, let me carry bottled water with me everywhere.”

Forget about the United States’ dependence on oil for our gas-guzzling cars — OK, we are starting to drive hybrids and full-electric cars, I’ll give you that — but water is the new goldmine, and the corporations know exactly how big of a profit they are looking at when diving into the golden fountain. These profiteers don’t care that out of the 75 percent water-drenched earth, only 1 percent of that water is drinkable. By the time we run out of our precious water, due partly to the constant pumping and draining of already drought-depleted fresh water sources, these companies will have already turned a profit.

The cost of processing and packaging ground water (or even tap water for that matter) costs only six to 11 cents per gallon, yet for the price it is sold at, water has turned into a $15 billion business. A profit that rich must have an ugly side.

Locals in the small towns that are being pumped of all their fresh water are getting nothing in return from companies like Nestle who are literally pumping up the fresh water for free and selling it back for a profit. Nestle doesn’t pay taxes, yet the locals still pay taxes to keep the water protected and clean.

Meanwhile, the factories making the PET plastic bottles out of oil are polluting the surrounding environment with carcinogenic chemicals that are leaving residents with cancer, reproductive complications and birth defects, with no way to sell their unwanted properties and move.

This carcinogenic risk caused by the PET manufacturers made me wonder, “Are we at risk drinking water from these plastic bottles?” The answer is yes, the FDA is too busy to keep close watch on bottled water regulation. And water pumped and sold in the same state isn’t even looked at by the FDA. We are left to rely on chemical tests of the water performed by the very factories that make the bottles.

Not only is bottled water practically unregulated ground water, 40 percent of bottled water is simply filtered tap water. If we want to pay to drink clean tap water from a plastic bottle, contaminated by the very plastic it is made of, we must be crazy, because we are not helping anyone, let alone ourselves.

Here is a more encouraging fact: Municipal water (the water that flows into our taps) in developed countries like the U.S. is tested for bacteria and toxins multiple times daily by the EPA.  To add to the faith in tap water, the National Tap Water Database is published for public view, unlike the sketchy secret databases companies like Nestle and Pepsi keep under wraps.

OK, so drinking bottled water is not the healthiest way to rehydrate, but what are the other cons? It’s never too long before the environment starts complaining about our bad habits. Although recycling has been on the rise, in the U.S. only 50 percent of recyclable bottles are actually recycled, and California only recycles a shameful 20 percent of its recyclable material. The rest of these bottles and other material ends up in landfills and the Pacific Ocean. Just look up images of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and you will begin to understand the affects of the continuing production of plastic bottles.

If you are still hesitant about drinking straight from your tap — and let’s be honest, how many college students do you know who are above drinking from the faucet — then you can still help by taking advantage of UCI’s Water Hydration Stations (filtered water fountains that look like your refrigerator door in hallways throughout the campus). It will certainly mend that hole in your wallet.

Bottled water should be used solely as an emergency way to get water to people in disaster relief situations, but otherwise, the only way to stop the negative affects of this bottled water frenzy on consumers and the environment is to stop buying bottled water. We are dressing and thinking like the youth of the 1970s, so why can’t we go back to drinking our clean and mineral-filled tap water like they did?

Lauren Shepherd is a second-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at shepherl@uci.edu.