Bottled water, for all its shortcomings, is the lesser of two evils when compared with sugary sodas and soft drinks fading out of fashion—hitting lowest category sales in three decades earlier this year. And despite its plastic bottle excess and high sticker price, bottled water is now more popular than soda for the first time in history.
But soda companies are still cashing in, trading up and down the beverage totem and keeping their water brands at the forefront of our consumption habits as they reimagine their flailing soda brands.
“Nestle Waters, Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group -- say Americans have switched from carbonated beverages [to bottled water] because their products are calorie-free and as portable as a can of Mountain Dew,” reports Bloomberg.
And bottled water is significantly cheaper to produce—it’s nothing more than water in a bottle, after all. For the consumer, though, while $3 for a bottle might not seem like much, it’s actually outrageously costly—about 2,000 times the price of turning on the tap. But for the bottled water industry, that makes it incredibly lucrative. The category hit $15 billion in the U.S. in 2015.
While many consumers are swapping their bottled sodas out for bottled water for health reasons — mainly to avoid the high sugar content in sodas, energy drinks, juices, and teas— issues surrounding municipal water quality are also turning people away from the tap and toward the bottle.
“Lead contamination in Flint, Michigan; Washington, D.C.; and Newark, New Jersey, has focused attention on America’s decaying pipes,” reports Bloomberg. “At least $384 billion of improvements are needed to maintain and replace essential parts of the country’s water infrastructure through 2030.”
It’s such a massive undertaking, according to environmental watchdog group The Waterkeeper Alliance, that at current rates of improvement, costing taxpayers about $1.4 billion annually, the nation’s water infrastructure won’t be fully updated until the year 2290.
Of course, all this bottled water may mean slimmer waistlines, but it also means lots of plastic bottles are winding up, rather ironically, in our water—oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams—which are all contaminated with plastic poluution. According to Bloomberg, only 30 percent of plastic water bottles are recycled.
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