The Bottled Water Lie: Pepsi admits Aquafina from tap water.

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The Bottled Water Lie: Pepsi admits Aquafina from tap water.

#1 Unread post by totalmotorcycle » Tue Aug 07, 2007 10:11 am

The Bottled Water Lie: As Soft Drink Giant Admits Product is Tap Water, New Scrutiny Falls on the Economic and Environmental Costs of a Billion Dollar Industry


The soft drink giant Pepsi has been forced to make an embarrassing admission – its best-selling Aquafina bottled water is nothing more than tap water. Pepsi has agreed to change its label under pressure from the advocacy group Corporate Accountability International (CAI) which has been leading an increasingly successful campaign against bottled water. We look at the economic and environmental costs of the bottled water industry with CAI’s Gigi Kellett and freelance journalist Michael Blanding.

The soft drink giant Pepsi has been forced to make an embarrassing admission – its best-selling Aquafina bottled water is nothing more than tap water. Last week Pepsi agreed to change the labels of Aquafina to indicate that the water comes from a public water source. Pepsi agreed to change its label under pressure from the advocacy group Corporate Accountability International which has been leading an increasingly successful campaign against bottled water.

In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently banned city departments from using city money to buy any kind of bottled water. In New York, local residents are being urged to drink tap water.The U.S. Conference of Mayors has passed a resolution that highlighted the importance of municipal water and called for more scrutiny of the impact of bottled water on city waste.

The environmental impact of the country’s obsession with bottled water has been staggering. Each day an estimated 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away. Most are not recycled. The Pacific Institute has estimated 20 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the plastic for water bottles.

Economically it makes sense to stop buying bottled water as well. The Arizona Daily Star recently examined the cost difference between bottled water and water from the city’s municipal supply. A half liter of Pepsi’s Aquafina at a Tucson convenience store costs one dollar and thirty nine cents. The bottle contains purified water from the Tucson water supply. From the tap, you can pour over six point four gallons for a penny. That makes the bottled stuff about 7,000 times more expensive even though Aquafina is using the same source of water.


AMY GOODMAN: The soft drink giant Pepsi has been forced to make an embarrassing admission: its bestselling Aquafina bottled water is nothing more than tap water. Last week, Pepsi agreed to change the labels of Aquafina to indicate the water comes from a public water source. Pepsi agreed to change its label under pressure from the advocacy group Corporate Accountability International, which has been leading an increasingly successful campaign against bottled water.

In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently banned city departments from using city money to buy any kind of bottled water. In New York, local residents are being urged to drink tap water. The US Conference of Mayors has passed a resolution that highlighted the importance of municipal water and called for more scrutiny of the impact of bottled water on city waste.

The environmental impact of the country's obsession with bottled water has been staggering. Each day an estimated sixty million plastic water bottles are thrown away. Most are not recycled. The Pacific Institute has estimated twenty million barrels of oil are used each year to make the plastic for water bottles.

Economically, it makes sense to stop buying bottled water, as well. The Arizona Daily Star recently examined the cost difference between bottled water and water from the city's municipal supply. A half-liter of Pepsi's Aquafina at a Tucson convenience store costs $1.39. The bottle contains purified water from the Tucson water supply. From the tap, you can pour over 6.4 gallons for a penny. That makes the bottled stuff about 7,000 times more expensive, even though Aquafina is using the same source of water.

Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International joins us in Boston, the group spearheading the Think Outside the Bottle campaign. We're also joined by freelance writer Michael Blanding. Last year he wrote an article for alternet.org called “The Bottled Water Lie.” We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

I want to begin with Gigi Kellett. Talk about Pepsi's admission.

GIGI KELLETT: Well, after a couple of years of our Think Outside the Bottle campaign, we have been asking of the bottled water corporations to come clean about where they get their water, what is the source of the water that they're bottling, because most people don't know that Pepsi's Aquafina, Coke's Dasani, comes from our public water systems. And so, after thousands of phone calls, thousands of public comments submitted to the corporation, and us taking these demands directly to the corporation’s annual shareholder meeting this year, Pepsi last week made the announcement that it would reveal that it gets its water from our public water systems.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, where exactly does Pepsi get it? Which public water supply?

GIGI KELLETT: Well, that is the issue that we're really looking at next, is what cities are they bottling the water in. You know, here in Massachusetts, it's coming from Ayer, Massachusetts. So we want to make sure that on those bottles it says: “Public water source: Ayer, Massachusetts.” That way, people know exactly what they're getting when they're buying that Aquafina bottled water.

AMY GOODMAN: Ayer being the name of a town in Massachusetts.

GIGI KELLETT: Ayer is the name of a town, right. Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happens to the town? They have their public water supply, and they have the plant for Pepsi?

GIGI KELLETT: That's right. We want to make sure that -- you know, Pepsi has certainly taken a lead on this for the bottled water industry, and we want to make sure that Coke and Nestle also follow suit. One of the things that we're finding as we're talking to people about this issue on the street is that they don't know where the water is coming from. And the bottled water corporations have spent tens of millions of dollars on ads that make people think that bottled water is somehow better, cleaner, safer than our public water systems. And in reality, we know that that's not true. And so, we want to make sure that we're increasing our people's confidence in their public water systems once again and knowing that we need to be investing in our public systems.

AMY GOODMAN: Gigi, can you go further who owns what? You mention Nestle. What does Nestle own?

GIGI KELLETT: Nestle owns several dozen brands of bottled water. The bottled water brand they source from our public water systems is called Nestle Pure Life. They also own Poland Spring, Ozarka, Arrowhead. The list goes on. And regionally, it's distributed across the country. And then we also have Coca-Cola, which bottles Dasani water, and, or course, Pepsi with Aquafina.

AMY GOODMAN: And when it comes to being tap water, what is the difference between plain tap water and distilled water from these public sources.

GIGI KELLETT: Well, there's very little difference. You know, our public water systems go through a very rigorous testing and monitoring system and is tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. So we want to make sure that people know that our public water systems are much better regulated than these bottled water brands, which don't have to go through the same rigorous type of process.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Gigi Kellett, associate campaigns director of Corporate Accountability International. Michael Blanding is a freelance writer, has written the piece "The Bottled Water Lie." Michael, what is the lie?

MICHAEL BLANDING: Well, there are actually several lies, I think, that the bottled water companies perpetrate, but I think the main one is exactly what Gigi said, that this image bolstered by, you know, millions and millions of dollars of advertising that bottled water is somehow better for you, it tastes better, it's more pure. And in many cases, that's simply not true. People are paying, you know, enormous premiums for bottled water and don't even realize the fact that in many cases not only does tap water taste the same, but that it's actually more tightly regulated and actually healthier for you. There have been, you know, several cases of bottled water that's actually been contaminated and found to contain hazardous chemicals. And tap water, there’s actually, you know, a rigorous testing and monitoring of the water supply that actually in many cases makes it healthier.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back from break, I want to talk about some of those cases of contamination, but also talk about the community struggles that are working to take back their water supply. Our guests are Michael Blanding, wrote "The Bottled Water Lie," and Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International and Michael Blanding, wrote “The Bottled Water Lie” for alternet.org. They're both in the Boston studio. We're talking about the bottled water lie.

Now, Michael, you begin your piece by talking about Antonia Mahoney. Talk about who she is.

MICHAEL BLANDING: She was someone who was just walking down the street in downtown Boston when the folks at Corporate Accountability -- Gigi and the folks in her group -- were holding something called the Tap Water Challenge, which was a taste test between tap water and various bottled water brands, Aquafina and Dasani. And I stood there during the afternoon and watched, you know, many people come up who were bottled water drinkers and could swear that they could tell the difference and that they could recognize their brand.

And Antonia Mahoney was one of those who -- she actually had given off drinking bottle -- drinking tap water a few years ago and was drinking only Poland Spring and knew, you know, that she would be able to tell Poland Spring of all the other types of water that she was drinking there. And it turned out that what she thought was Poland Spring was actually the tap water from Boston, the good old tap water, which -- we actually have very good tap water that comes from western Mass here. So she was very surprised and shocked and decided right there that she was going to leave off her contract of paying $30 a month for Poland Spring water that she got delivered to her house. So it was very -- and there were other experiences like that during the day that I witnessed.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael, you write about the problems of a suspected carcinogen chemical, bromate. You talk about the contamination of Dasani water, owned by Coca-Cola, in 2004. Explain what the problems are, the contamination issues.

MICHAEL BLANDING: So, ironically, one of the processes that actually takes the tap water and purifies it -- it’s called ozonation -- can actually in some cases have a byproduct, which is bromate, which is, as you say, a suspected carcinogen. And the largest case of contamination was in the UK in 2004, right when Dasani launched in the United Kingdom. They had something like a half-million bottles of Dasani water actually found to be contaminated, and people were getting sick. And, you know, it's just indicative of the lack of controls and the lack of monitoring that you find with bottled water.

And it's not an isolated case. There have been many others that have occurred. Most recently up in Upstate New York with an independent bottled water company, there were multiple cases of bromate contamination, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the issue of filtering? First of all, I don't know if people realize when something says “public water source” that it means tap water. But then, what it means for that tap water to be filtered to -- you talk about additional techniques like reverse-osmosis.

MICHAEL BLANDING: Right, yeah. So there are various techniques that the companies use, and, you know, they tout them as these proprietary techniques that, you know, they go through seven different phases of filtering, and all the rest of it. And, you know, when you look at it, though -- you know, reverse-osmosis is the main one, which is basically just pushing water through a membrane to remove contaminants, and it's actually very similar to the type of process that can be found in home water filters, just, you know, the kind that you attach to your tap for a couple of hundred bucks. So, you know, the -- it's not as sophisticated as they might, you know, pretend that it is.

AMY GOODMAN: And internationally, the movements, from Bolivia to Peru, La Paz, all over.

MICHAEL BLANDING: Yeah. What's interesting is that, you know, here in the United States there are, you know, several communities that have actually, you know, had plants take a lot of water from their groundwater up in Michigan, you know, where they can actually see the water level of one of their streams declining because of, you know, the massive amount that Nestle was taking from their water.

And it's even a more critical issue in other countries where water scarcity is a real problem, so places like India, where Coca-Cola and Pepsi have actually, you know, really depleted communities and farmers have been unable to grow their crops, it's kind of been a double whammy. They've taken the water, and then the water that they -- the waste water they've dumped back has been polluted, in many cases. And so, that's one issue, is just the depletion of water from the plants themselves.

And then the other issue, which I know Gigi could talk about, is just the perception that comes across that somehow tap water is -- you know, municipal water is somehow, you know, not as good as water that's been privatized. And so, you have -- it sort of starts this steady creep of where privatization of water sources becomes OK. And there have been many communities, like in Bolivia, where water supplies have been privatized and have been sold back to -- water that was previously free has, you know, skyrocketed in price. And people have taken to the streets and protested and actually got the private companies to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: Gigi Kellett, let's talk about the tainting of the image of the municipal water supply in this country, the effect of the bottled water advertising industry campaigns.

GIGI KELLETT: Well, this is something that’s of real concern to our organization and our members and activists across the country, because we are seeing this -- you know, who are we turning to to provide our drinking water? And there are -- these bottled water corporations are spending tens of millions of dollars every year on ads that effectively undermine people's confidence in their water. There was actually a poll done by the University of Arkansas earlier this year that found young people tend to choose bottled water over tap water, because they feel it's somehow cleaner or better than their public water systems. And as we've already mentioned here, we know that in reality that's not true. So there is a real concern about the impact that these bottled water corporations are having on the way we think about water.

And our Think Outside the Bottle campaign is aiming to change that, and we're having real success with cities like San Francisco and Ann Arbor, Michigan and New York City, taking a lead on putting their public water systems back in the forefront and not contracting with bottled water corporations, for example, like in Salt Lake City and in San Francisco. And we're seeing restaurants turn to the tap in lieu of bottled water. So there’s a lot that people are starting to look at in terms of this industry and what changes we can make to promote our own public water systems here in this country and make sure that they have the funding they need to thrive, and that also we're looking internationally to make sure that countries that may be cash-strapped also have the resources they need to have good, strong public water systems and not turn to privatization.

AMY GOODMAN: Gigi, tell us about what happened in Salt Lake City and in San Francisco, with the mayor announcing that city money cannot be used to buy bottled water.

GIGI KELLETT: That's right. You know, the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, after we had been working with his staff there, working with the San Francisco Department of the Environment and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, they looked at how much money they were spending on bottled water every year. It was close to a half-million dollars. And they said, “We're the forefront. We're cities. We're the forefront of ensuring that people have access to good, safe, clean water. And we're also now at the forefront of dealing with the waste that results from the bottled water industry. So we need to take a stand as a city.” And in June, Mayor Newsom issued an executive order saying that the city would no longer be buying bottled water. And he joined with the mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, and also the mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak, to put forward a resolution at the US Conference of Mayors calling on a study to really look at what are the impacts of bottled water on our municipal waste. So it’s a real great leadership that we're seeing of these cities.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Gigi, what about the effect that the water in the plastic bottle has? Is there any kind of leeching out? People think that they're getting healthier water in all sorts of ways, but what about the impact of that plastic?

GIGI KELLETT: Well, there are a number of concerns about the impact of the plastic, yes, of course, in the leeching. These bottles that are made are single-serve bottles, so they're not intended to be reused, because of the potential for leeching of the plastic into -- you know, when you're drinking the water. And then, of course, there are the environmental impacts of the bottles that are ending up in our landfills and on the side of the road as litter. They're not being recycled. Only about 23% of these plastic bottles are being recycled. So it's a huge impact for our environment and, of course, for people's health. So we want people to be looking at turning back to the tap and thinking outside the bottle.

AMY GOODMAN: You talked about international, and we're going to go international now to El Salvador.
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#2 Unread post by storysunfolding » Tue Aug 07, 2007 10:28 am

Pepsi and Coke have always admitted that Aquafina and Dasani were purified tap water. They have just recently been asked to make that clearer on the bottle.

We talked about this 4 years ago in one of my Econ classes. Our professor said, and I quote, "If five years ago someone had come to me, and told me they planned to bottle purified tap water in one of only countries in the world where every municipality has clean potable water, I would have called him crazy... A billion dollar industry later..."
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#3 Unread post by Loonette » Tue Aug 07, 2007 11:40 am

Our community's tap water is perfectly safe for drinking, however, it's loaded with lime and other minerals. A Brita filter will eliminate some of it, but the lime wreaks havoc on our glassware and coffee maker. Thus, we do buy bottled water, but we're not fooled into thinking that it's anything but purified tap. And we usually go for the cheap stuff - Kroger does the trick just fine.

Eventually I'd like to invest in a reverse osmosis system, as from what I've tried at a friend's home, it does a great job with hard water like ours.

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#4 Unread post by celt » Tue Aug 07, 2007 11:44 am

wait, WHAT?

nexy you're going to tell me that when i drink an Evian water, the bottle really WASN'T held underneath a fresh spring by some guy in a beret named PIERRE?

oh the humanity!!!!!!! :roll:


i love that it's named EVIAN....what's that spelled backwards again?

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#5 Unread post by vulcan_x » Tue Aug 07, 2007 2:00 pm

Did you ever think that you'd be paying for water (Bottles), air (Gas Stations), and radio (XM, SIRRIUS)? :roll:
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#6 Unread post by High_Side » Tue Aug 07, 2007 5:18 pm

vulcan_x wrote:Did you ever think that you'd be paying for water (Bottles), air (Gas Stations), and radio (XM, SIRRIUS)? :roll:
The Sirius radio is worth it.......just to avoid the "personalities" that come with local radio :lol:

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#7 Unread post by Tower18CHI » Tue Aug 07, 2007 8:36 pm

I used to get bottled water at Meijer. They had a Culligan machine there and a gallon of water was $0.49, $0.29 if you brought your own jugs.

To this day, it was the best water I've ever had, which is funny, because it was probably just Culligan-treated local tap water.

Today, I just use a Brita pitcher.

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#8 Unread post by Shorts » Tue Aug 07, 2007 9:15 pm

High_Side wrote:
vulcan_x wrote:Did you ever think that you'd be paying for water (Bottles), air (Gas Stations), and radio (XM, SIRRIUS)? :roll:
The Sirius radio is worth it.......just to avoid the "personalities" that come with local radio :lol:
Satellite radio is becoming just as bad. It'll be like the evolution of DVDs. Remember when they first came out, when you put them into your player, the movie menu started right up, there were no previews to sit through without the ability to skip. Now, pretty much all (legal) DVDs have previews that are unavoidable :frusty:



Funny about the Aquafina, a lady came to the counter at the gym asking what brand we used. She only insisted on "Aquafina" - sorry lady, you're stuck with Nestle PureLife or cooled water fountain water. :laughing:

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#9 Unread post by JC Viper » Tue Aug 07, 2007 9:30 pm

The same goes for Poland Spring. I'm curious if Vitamin Water or SoBe water really have vitamins in them.

I really like Powerade Option Black Cherry water, same goes for Gatorade Propel black cherry... mostly for flavor.
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#10 Unread post by t_bonee » Tue Aug 07, 2007 10:18 pm

Penn & Teller do a show on Showtime called BullSh1t. The did a segment where they fooled all these people into thinking they're in a "Water Bar" where they brought all these exotic bottles of water for people to taste. The "waiter" would open the water like a bottle of wine and all the customers were saying how all the different brands had different tastes and hardness or softness factors and other crap. Well the reality was, there was a guy out back who filled every bottle someone ordered with water out of the hose off the back of the building.

They even had a dead spider in one bottle that they got people to drink saying it was from some stream in the Amazon and the native tribes had been drinking water with this spider in it for centuries to ward off disease and illness. Damn if people didn't drink it and say how unique tasting it was.
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#11 Unread post by JC Viper » Tue Aug 07, 2007 11:18 pm

I was watching the morning news show and there was a new type of water product being sold for a high price. They called it designer water where the company uses the finest water from other countries or so.

I didn't bother to get the brand names cause there's no way I'll pay $75+ for a bottle.
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#12 Unread post by Texfire » Wed Aug 08, 2007 11:43 pm

The one that gets me is Evian. You mean to tell me that someone is taking water from another country, putting it in a bunch of small plastic bottles, crating those bottles, loading them on a ship, and shipping them across the ocean? And people buy it...

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#13 Unread post by flynrider » Thu Aug 09, 2007 5:05 pm

I don't think "The bottled water lie" is as big as they make it out to be. Most bottled water comes from a tap and says so on the label. Apparently, the "big story" is that they'll now tell you exactly whose tap it comes from.

One thing I found disingenuous is that they make it sound like the bottled water is just poured out of the tap into the bottles. It's not. The water is run through either filters or RO systems to remove local impurities (like particulates and large amounts of chlorine in some areas).

Personally, I think bottled water is silly. My own tap water here in Phoenix tastes pretty bad (lots of chlorine), but I just run it through a filter at the tap. Costs me about $40/yr.

I remember the original "bottled water lie" back in the early 80s. Back then, Perrier was still claiming that their water came from a naturally carbonated spring in France. Some ingenious fellow did the math and figured out that the quantity of water that Perrier shipped worldwide would require a "spring" roughly the size of the Mississippi river. :laughing:

Another bottled water favorite are the brands that claim to come from glaciers. This just cracks me up. If you've ever seen glacier water, you wouldn't want to drink it. It looks like watered down milk.
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#14 Unread post by Nibblet99 » Mon Aug 13, 2007 4:10 am

I seem to remember desani failed over here before it was even put on sale....

We do have legitimate spring water here - Malvern and Buxton to name a couple - modified tap water didn't stand a chance
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#15 Unread post by Ian522 » Mon Aug 13, 2007 7:04 am

I dont care where it comes from, it tastes a hell of alot better than nasty tap water and thats why I either buy bottled water or use the brita filter at home.

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#16 Unread post by Apollofrost » Mon Aug 13, 2007 8:25 am

I've had fresh spring water and it tastes great after a long hike. The stuff in bottles doesn't even come close.

As for water filters, my dad used to have a British Bekfeild military filter that worked pretty well and now I just use the filter attached to my fridge.
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#17 Unread post by Texfire » Mon Aug 13, 2007 11:16 am

It just ironic because alot of people who consider themselves ecologically conscious won't hesitate to buy water that's sold in plastic bottles rather than drink water that comes out of their tap. I do drink water from a bottle, but after the initial purchase I refill the bottles from a Brita filter I have. That way I have the convenience of the bottle, recycle it in a meaningful manner by reusing the container, and have filtered water to drink.

I like the theory that the whole purpose of humanity is the world decided it needed plastic and styrofoam. Now that it has it we're redundant. :)

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