Marketing increases cost of vital elements

By this time next year, people living in the United States could be paying eight dollars a gallon for bottled water – and that is only the beginning.

It’s funny how an abundant resource can become a premium, commercialized commodity if the forces of the market are in its favor.

Let’s face it, America never stops moving, so the neo-nomadic population is at the mercy of profit margins when filling up, especially considering that about 40 percent of the nomads do so on a weekly basis. What other option is there? Well-drilling is not an independent enterprise, and even if the Earth was soaked in water, keep in mind the cost of filtration, storage and federal regulation.

So, with submissive resentment, everyone must comply and yield to the demand of big business, even as the price per bottle rises.

American consumers empty billions of bottles of water annually, contributing to an industry that has diversified its product line substantially over the years, and has developed an international import/export network comparable to post-WWII vineyards, only more rapidly. Unlike wine, however, bottled water is consistently consumed by about 60 percent of Americans.

I wonder about a society that searches diligently for more domestic sources of energy, yet chooses to drink mermaid tears from some mountain in God-knows-where. On the other hand, the credit goes to the public relations experts responsible for transforming their product into a necessity. According to the National Resources Defense Council, half of bottled water drinkers claim their loyalty toward certain brands and products is due to health concerns.

Part of the 60 percent figure is attributable to individuals looking to avoid sugar and caffeine. Nevertheless, many consumers are products of rigorous negative advertising aimed at municipal water.

The truth is, the FDA regulates tap water much more strictly than it does bottled water.

The reason is simple: When Perrier had a benzene contamination crisis in the early ’90s, the company lost profits. If the government faced such a problem, the damage would warrant more than a monetary solution.

Still, the “water giants” were able to convince many people that their products provide a cleaner alternative to tap water. Some companies, however, such as Aquafina (which boldly displays a Rocky Mountain facade on its labels), even use multiple tap sources because of tap water’s required cleanliness.

Ultimately, though, it’s about presentation. Many patrons enjoy the implied condescension afforded to them when they spend several dollars on a Fiji bottle. As comedian Jim Gaffigan so eloquently said, “It’s more watery than water.”

So how much are Americans paying to pee like the French? The actual water in bottled water, regardless of quality, costs no more than a few pennies. The remainder is dedicated to packaging, distribution and advertisement, with 1/3 of the cost going to profit.

More striking is the ecological cost. The Container Recycling Institute reports that a year’s supply of plastic bottles for the United States requires approximately 50 million gallons of oil and one billion pounds of carbon dioxide. Still, many fast-food restaurants refuse to pull bottled water from their menus, because tap water is too impure to wash down all of those tasty triglycerides.

In the end, it is difficult to provide a legitimate argument against bottled water. Considering the options, a switch from sugar-saturated drinks to water more than makes up for the practicality lost in paying twice as much for it than gasoline.

I seek only to emphasize the safety of tap water, and to alleviate the sudden falsely-based pressure to avoid public sources of hydration. This is a nation that grew up sipping from a garden hose on Sunday afternoons, and the pipes are just as they were 50 years ago.

The only thing that needs to be purified is the perception and trust in the competence of those responsible for ensuring our survival.

Mohammed Ibrahim is a senior majoring in pre-med biology.