How Not to Convince People to Buy Bottled Water [Updated]

The Bottled Water Association's YouTube vid, is, like, totally lame.

bottled water

If you've seen Annie Leonard's Story of Bottled Water or read one of our posts on the subject, you know that there is much to dislike in the bottled water industry. But the nonsensical and vaguely unsettling videos being pumped out by Bottled Water Matters, the consumer arm of the International Bottled Water Association, really don't help the industry's case.

Among the more disturbing statistics about bottled water: One third of bottled water comes from the tap, and enough oil and energy to fuel a million cars is used to make bottled water in the U.S. every year. These facts are conveniently smoothed over in the YouTube shorts produced by BWM.

The video below purports to tell the "True Story of Bottled Water" with help from a helium-voiced animated bottle of water that defends the industry with fun tidbits like "There are some people who simply don't like the smell or taste of chlorine that you get with tap water," and "With the high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in the U.S., people are choosing bottled water as an alternative to other drinks." A note to our animated host—EPA guidelines require that tap water contain a minimal chlorine concentration of 0.2 ppm. If you're really concerned, letting the water sit for a day in an uncovered container removes all traces of chlorine. And tap water can help prevent obesity just as well as bottled water.

The most recent video from Bottled Water Matters, dubbed "The Inner Workings of a Bottled Water Plant," is just as cringeworthy. The poorly produced clip features a teenage correspondent on a tour of the Grand Springs bottling facility in Alton, Virginia. At one point, the correspondent exclaims, "I just feel like I'm in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory!" We beg to differ.

These videos aren't just goofy; they're also spreading misinformation. Dr. Peter Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute and author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water, explains to FastCompany.com, "Facts are often wrong or incompletely presented; partial truths mask the full story; industry representatives make claims that are unsubstantiated; the videos explicitly malign tap water – something the industry claims it doesn't do (such as at minute 1:23 in "The Real Story of Bottled Water," and especially 1:33 in that same video); they pretend to be "reporting" (ala the "BWM Report" label on the microphone held up to spokesmen for comments in the "Good Stewards of the Environment" segment), with softball questions given to company executives (like "What positive steps is your company doing for the environment?"); the "reporter" agrees with the executives ("So you’re really good on recycling…."); and so on."

See if you can stomach it below. A glass of water might help it go down.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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12 Comments

  • Tom Lauria

    Your statement that “there is much to dislike in the bottled water industry” indicates that you do not have all the facts at hand about safe, healthy, convenient bottled water. Approximately 45% of the retail bottled water is drawn from municipal water sources. However, these purified bottled water products are far different from the original source water. Purified bottled water is not just tap water in bottle! Purified bottled water undergoes several processes, such as reverse osmosis, ozonation, one-micron filtration, ultra-violet treatment and others.

    PET plastic used to make our single serve bottles is derived from oil by-products not raw oil, so the analogy to “fueling a million cars” is seriously flawed. After gasoline is refined, there is a small mountain of sludge leftover. Fortunately, that sludge does not go to landfills but is recycled into plastic.

    IBWA and BottledWaterMatters believe that our 15 You Tube videos are factual and help consumers understand the real facts about bottled water. Some are serious, some are playful – all are truthful and clear, even simple, in their use of the facts. IBWA supports a strong municipal water system and we don’t disparage tap water. Since there are many false claims and comparisons being made about bottled water and tap water, we must set the record straight and provide the facts to consumers,. There are, regrettably, problems with tap water in some areas. As you may know, bottled water products are regulated by the FDA. FDA inspections apply to all packaged foods and beverages. FDA prioritizes its inspections based upon risk, and bottled water has been determined to be a low risk product from a food safety standpoint. In fact, according to a 2009 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report (p. 45, state Health Department survey), there has not been a single reported illness from bottled water in the past five years. In contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated there are between 4.2 million and 16.4 million acute gastrointestinal illnesses each year caused by tap water consumption:

    “National Estimate of Waterborne Disease associated with Public Drinking Water” http://www.cdc.gov/healthywate...

    Most people drink both tap and bottled water, and any efforts made to discourage hydration by drinking bottled water at home, the office or while on the go, are not in the public interest, particularly in a time when the rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes are at high levels The next time you’re in a food or convenience store, look at the beverage choices – almost every one is packaged in plastic. I think you’ll agree bottled water is healthiest choice of the lot. Just look for the recycle bin, regardless of what you choose.

  • andrew lee

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

    Checkout this link on plastic in the water. It's really bad, all this use of plastic. In fact, there is a very high chance that you are consuming the plastics from plastic waste in your seafood diet. In addition, the chemicals found in the plastics as well as created in the manufacture of the plastics may be harmful as they slowly seep into the water over time - the water we Drink.

    Anyway, give it a watch adn think twice before throwing your waste in the dirt. Secondly, think twice before you drink that water :P

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    Touche Mr Reich!
    Your'e right, sitting water out overnight isn't exactly convenient and opens it up to contamintion.

    Every story has a preset position. That's the motivation for writing them. Sometimes people's preset positions aren't biased for a particular side, but still are written from POV based on the emotional impetus generated by the topic. Everything anybody says or experesses is from a preset position. It seems a moot point, but responsibility in documenting the story with accuracy should be taken.

    Certainly bottled water isn't the demon itself. A much worse case could be made for pretty much every comsumer product out there. It's the cheezy wool they were trying to pull over our eyes about the extreme obvious superiority of their product. But i guess that's what all marketing is about. The bottled water people just really really need new marketing people. not just the budget, but the way they choose to communicate it.

    I don't think you're a bad steward of the earth if you drink bottled water. ...or if you don't.

  • Malabar

    Tap water may taste like crap, but 40% of bottled is just that. Don't let "convenience" trump preserving our planet.

  • Bryan Sheasby

    Saying that bottle water is tap water is as intellectually honest as saying that urine is tap water. In both cases (urine and bottling) the tap water is filtered and nutrients and minerals are added and removed. So we should all start drinking our own urine right?

    Come on people. If YOU are going to convince me to STOP drinking bottled water then YOU better do a better job at it. Frankly your arguments are nonsensical and full of holes right now. Plastic bottles get recycled. It costs money to pump tap water. Tap water usage hurts the environment (drains lakes, kill local species). Tap water also has the notorious distinction of being the source of so many disease and cancer outbreaks that its not even funny. Go watch Erin Brockovich. Besides the things that seep into the water, they add flouride which is bad for you and your houses plumbing is a factor that tap water testing fully ignores. Do some research before you spout your non-sense.

    A better solution may be to locally filter water into re-usable bottles and to use aluminum or reusable plastic bottle to drink out of.

  • Sheena Medina

    Bryan- Did you just say, "Tap water usage hurts the environment?" That sounds like a solid argument right there.

  • Bryan Sheasby

    My point is that if you are going to attack something as bad for the environment then you have to look at the opportunity costs of people using something else. At least until local water projects in Southern California are completed then we need to cut down on water usage because it really is hurting the environment by draining lakes up north.

    Bottled water is not used just because of conveinance but often out of necessity. For one thing I don't have a sink in my office and the only sink in the bathroom is not even tall enough to put a cup under. So either I drink bottled water or I don't drink water. If you are going to attack something as bad public policy then you have to give an alternative. Reusable water bottles are a start but I can only carry so much water around with me. If I start loading up then I end up driving all that water around with me on my commute to and from work and thereby pollute the environment more. It's the law of unintended consequenses that people who write these articles often completely fail to account for.

  • Sheena Medina

    Here's the thing Bryan- Read this article on the real consequences of the bottled water industry. It was written in '07 and is SUPER long, but extremely thorough, well written, and makes a solid argument with actual facts to back it up. http://www.fastcompany.com/mag... (it also won this prestigious writing award for investigative reporting in journalism or something like that). If you still feel the same way about bottled water after reading that article, then read this story on BPA: http://www.fastcompany.com/mag... After all of that reading, thinking, and mind blowing, if you still are not even remotely convinced that bottled water is actually one of the worst choices we can make as consumers, then keep on driving to work in your gas guzzling vehicle with bottled water in the back seat because things are about to get really hot. You're gonna need that water.

  • Chris Reich

    This is another story with a preset position.

    Visit Los Angeles. The tap water tastes like crap. It tastes like crap from LA to San Diego. Travel the country as I do and you'll discover places where there is so much chlorine in the water that it smells like a swimming pool in the bathroom when you take a shower.

    And letting it stand overnight is just not practical.

    So if the convenience of grabbing a bottle of water causes someone to skip a sugar drink, great. There is a cost savings there albeit difficult to measure.

    If the bottles are the demons, change the bottle. The water isn't the bad guy, the bottle is. Attack that problem. There is plenty of junk we do not need that comes embedded in plastic. Why is water the demon?

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    I think there is a certain young lady is really trying to start her acting career...
    These videos look more like a high school claass project than an actual attempt by a billion dollar (assuming?) industry to educate people on the virtues of bottled water and the industry. Really backfired this time. Seriously, couldn't even spring for some actual music instead of that royalty free music... i.e. random tone generator it seems they used.

    Now if only we could install a system of pipes that would deliver relatively clean water straight to people's houses and businesses and they could reuse their own bottles like the rest of their cups.. then we would really have a healthy system set up.

    Maybe the issue isn't the availability of clean water (in the U.S.) it's the habits of people. We're always seeking validation and have an uncanny knack for justifying whatever we want. Often we're even able to spin it into something that makes us superior to those who don't do or have whatever we do or have.

    Excellent article Ariel !!!
    A story like this almost writes itself, but you did an excellent job.... and you didn't even have to giggle and pose to get us to pay attention to what you were saying.