Off Green: Distractions on the Road to Saving the Environment

Fighting the climate change is probably the most important issue facing our generation. Many people of good will would like to do their part to address this problem, but don’t really know where to start from.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of disinformation out there, which leads people to take steps that might make them feel “green,” but don’t really help much, if at all.

Accordingly, this is the first of a series of articles giving examples of “green” initiatives that do little other than distract, along with ideas about what we should be doing instead.

This installment is all about drinking water. Future articles will delve into paperwork and electricity. Please send me feedback on these articles along with your ideas.

First part of series follows the jump.

Got Water?
Enjoy a drink and refill your bottle here!

Why support tap water?

  • Tap is regulated by the EPA, and held to stricter safety standards than bottled water.
  • Tap keeps plastic waste out of landfills and oceans.
  • Tap protects the privatization of a basic human right.
  • Tap avoids plastic bottle production, which relies heavily on petrochemicals and fossil fuels for raw materials, manufacture, and transport.
  • Tap only costs $0.002 per gallon.

Led by students, Hampshire college ended the sale of bottled water on campus in Fall 2012.

Bottled “Green” Water

The municipal waters in the areas where most of us live are perfectly healthy to drink, and yet many of us choose to drink bottled water. 20 billion barrels of oil go annually into making the water bottles that Americans throw out, creating 25 million tons of greenhouse gases.

Nestlé’s bottled water comes from Dallas, Texas, meaning that we are simply substituting Dallas water for Philadelphia water, and paying the supermarket and polluting the environment for the privilege. Other waters come from more exotic locations like Fiji. It is still the same H2O by another name, but it is being shipped around the world to quench our thirst.

Nestlé Waters, “The Healthy Hydration Company,” tries to “green-wash” their product:

To reduce the global environmental impact of PET bottles, Nestlé Waters created a new generation of packaging: the Eco-Shape PET bottle.

True, their new bottle is 25% lighter than its predecessor — largely due to a shorter bottle cap. Nevertheless, 25% lighter is still 75% too heavy compared to the truly environment-friendly alternative of a reusable water bottle, canteen or cup. In fact, the smaller cap makes the bottle more difficult to reuse, and is more prone to being swallowed by small children.

Oddly enough, most of our National Parks continue to sell bottled water, even though they have some of the most pristine water in the country on site. In fact, 30% of the Grand Canyon National Park’s recycling waste used to come from disposable bottles before it has gone bottled water-free.



  1. DocJess says

    I’m one of those people who drinks tap water at home (albeit run through an additional filter) and who keeps a refillable water mug at the office. I often bring a reusable bottle from home with me. (As an aside, I even have a special refillable water bottle for my dog with an attached trough.) I minimize my purchase of bottled water, but there is something that always bothers me about that.

    Let’s say that you’re in an airport, where they don’t let you bring a bottle of water past security. Or a concert, game, etc., where you cannot bring in your own water bottle. You’re thirsty and you want to get something to drink. Why is bottled water worse than a bottle of soda or iced tea? The latter are about 95% water, and also go through the process of having the liquid processed and shipped. Why is water worse? We know that plain water is better for the human body than the other junk in the bottle.

    In a lot of these places, there’s an absolute dearth of water fountains.  

    • Publisher says

      It is true that certain places do not allow you to bring in water. Airports limit liquids at security checkpoints, but you are allowed to bring in an empty bottle and then refill it once you are past the checkpoint.

      Other places do not allow you to bring in water so that they can sell you a beverage of their own. This is a more serious problem, but it is worth communicating your concerns with the management so that they are aware of the issue.  

    • Publisher says

      I singled out bottled water because I believe it is easier to steer people to using a water cooler if they already have the intention of drinking water.

      However, there certainly is nothing superior about bottles and cans of soda, juice, iced tea or other beverages. Water is certainly more healthy. Juice bottles cannot be reused without washing them which may be inconvenient in certain situations. Soda cans are really not reusable, they can only be recycled which while better than alternative of simply trashing them still requires significant resources.

      Basically, the bottom line is that there is nothing “green” about substituting soda, juice or other bottled or canned beverages for bottled water.

      Incidentally, if plain water is not appealing to you, then keep a container of a water enhancer like Mio in your purse in order to liven up your water.

      • DocJess says

        I personally prefer water to most any other drink (um, except coffee…) but for a cold beverage, it’s water for me about 99% of the time. My objection is when I’m with a whole group of people and one or more of them grouse about my purchase of water when they’re also in line buying bottles of tea and soda.  

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