Bluewashing: Bottled Water

Why consumers should take a second look at their bottled water

Credit: Julien Harnels

Credit: Julien Harnels

Originally, the deprecatory term bluewashing was used to describe the coalition between the United Nations and certain corporations that agreed to abide by the 10 principles of the United Nations’ Global Compact. An unspoken truth in the industry, critics have argued that because there are no regulatory measures ensuring such corporations abide by the guidelines of the Global Compact, the partnership between the United Nations and these corporations are merely public relations stunts.

Furthermore, many critics claim that bluewashing is the new greenwashing – when corporations promote products as environmentally friendly when, in reality, the products are harmful to the environment.

According to an official release from the Food and Water Watch, “Corporations have financial incentive to hide environmental impacts of their industries from an American public that is increasingly concerned with buying environmentally friendly products.” Certain corporate sectors are more threatened by the new consumer environmental consciousness, resulting in these misleading tactics.

One field that has been at the focus of many investigations into its bluewashing practices is the bottled water industry. Bottled water sales have been declining since 2008. Media and industry analysts have said that this decline is partly due to the economic downturn, and partly due to the increase in consumer consciousness. This is where the bluewashing comes in.

“Bottled water is inherently sensitive. The 8.7 billion gallons of water sold in 2008 were taken from environment, packaged in plastic and often shipped long distances. Spring water is a special concern because it often comes from groundwater sources that are environmentally sensitive,” observes the release. “In addition, bottled water manufacturing uses more water than just the water that goes into the bottle. The Pacific Institute estimates that for every liter of water in a PET bottle, two liters of water are used to make the plastic and bottle the water.”

Created by a website that promotes green initiatives, here is a list of facts that bottled water consumers should know about:

  • Groundwater pumping can cause water levels to decline both underground and in surrounding lakes, rivers, and streams.
  • As long as water bottlers profit from water, they have no financial incentives to reduce their total water consumption.
  • Tap water has the lowest water footprint and the lowest carbon footprint of any beverage.
  • In 2007, bottled water population in the United States used the energy equivalent of 32 to 54 million barrels of oil – enough to fuel about 1.5 million cars a year.
  • The manufacturer of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, water extraction, bottling and distributing amounts to up to 2,000 times the energy cost of producing tap water.
  • In 2006, only one in every four water bottles was recycled; at this rate, millions of tons of empty plastic bottles end up in landfills.
  • The distribution of bottled water uses energy and therefore contributes to climate change.

Not only should consumers take a second look at their bottled water and the corporations and industries that they come from, but increasing evidence suggests that reverting back to tap water is both cheaper, and more environmentally friendly.

– Kane Carpenter