Column: Bottled water is far from pure

By Samantha Kenny

The Eagle, American U. via UWIRE

Banning the sale of bottled water on campus might seem like an odd way to take a stand against social injustice, but few people fully understand exactly what they are sipping from their disposable plastic bottles.  The issues associated with bottled water and the privatization of water in general far exceed those of roadside litter and landfills.

The environmental issues surrounding bottled water are nothing new. Plastic bottles are made from a byproduct of refining oil and, when accompanied with the gasoline used to transport the bottles from one place to another, give bottled water a huge carbon footprint. Also, only 10 percent of plastic bottles are recycled, sending the rest to landfills, incinerators and waterways, according to Food & Water Watch.

One issue students may find particularly hard to swallow is the effect that water privatization has on human rights in our global community. Buying bottled water supports international companies who have succeeded in privatizing all municipal water in third world countries. The privatization of Bolivian water has led to a doubling of water prices. Many Bolivians cannot afford the price increase and there have been mass riots across the nation.

In addition to hurting the global water system, buying bottled water supports unjust efforts right here at home. Several towns in our country have had their municipal water sources claimed and bottled by big companies like Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Even during times of drought, these Americans are forced to buy what used to be a free resource. Even as they grow thirsty, the companies continue to bottle.

In a survey administered to the American U. community in October 2012, one student posed the argument that purchasing bottled water is everyone’s right. In response, students declared our freedoms only extend until they infringe on the rights of others. Everyone has a right to clean, safe drinking water. This freedom should not be sacrificed for our luxury of drinking from disposable bottles while our sinks are filled with safer, cleaner water.

The most common misconception about bottled water is its superiority to tap water. D.C. tap water is checked for bacteria several times a day and has a water quality report available online. Nationally, tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act and is held to higher standards for safety than bottled water, which is regulated as a food product by the Food and Drug Administration. Additionally, the FDA gives the responsibility for safety checks directly to the bottled water companies, who are never legally required to release this information.

Also, plastic water bottles contain PETs, a chemical that is linked with cancer and reproductive issues. PETs begin to leak from the bottle and into the water instantly. The chemicals leak into the water increasingly due to the duration and temperature at which the bottle is kept. Ironic that the labels wrapped around those bottles read “pure,” “clean,” and “natural.”

The Take Back the Tap campus group is working to ban the sale of bottled water on the AU campus. Our goal is to have the administration agree to a campus-wide ban of bottled water sales. Bottled water will be available off campus and all other bottled beverages will continue to be available for purchase on campus. To find out more about the issue or get involved, please contact

Water is life, and life shouldn’t be privatized.


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