26 Jun 2008

Mayoral Water

Straight from Grist:
The U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution Monday to phase out city spending on bottled water. "Cities are sending the wrong message about the quality of public water when we spend taxpayer dollars on water in disposable containers from a private corporation," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, adding, "The fact is, our tap water is more highly regulated than what's in the bottle." Millions of barrels of oil go into plastic-bottle manufacturing, and cities spend some $70 million annually on bottle disposal.

Though the new resolution is not binding, it received strong support, and more than 60 mayors across the country have already canceled bottled-water contracts.

The American Beverage Association is entirely unamused by the trend. "We believe that common sense will prevail when mayors return to their communities," says the ABA's Kevin Keane, "as most recognize more pressing challenges are facing their communities than concerns about a healthy water beverage."
Did you get that last bit? "more pressing challenges... than concerns about a healthy water beverage." Does this mean that there are more important things to worry about than having healthy water or that there are more important things to worry about than reducing city purchases of bottled water?

Bottom Line: Bottled "healthy water beverages" are a waste of money and resources that harm the environment. Just as well that those mayors have decided against providing such "beverages" to employees for free. People should at least pay if they are going to destroy the environment!


  1. Hi David. I was wondering if you could clarify what you mean by, "...waste of money and resources that harm the environment."

    I assume that there's an implied, "...at the current artificially low bottled water prices," at the end of that sentence. If someone is willing to pay for bottled water that fully internalizes all costs, you wouldn't judge that a "waste" would you?

    My guess is that there is some economically efficient amount of bottled water consumption above zero. What do you think?

  2. Hi Kevin,

    The waste of money is wrt bottled water being the same as tap water. The resources/environment means the bottle and moving it around PLUS externalities from that bottle...

    I don't think the bottle water price internalizes all costs...

    I think that bottled water is a great idea where tap water isn't potable, e.g., india :)

  3. Hmmm. Then I think we disagree on the role of economics in determining "waste".

    First, assume that appropriate laws/regulations force the price of a bottle of water to fully internalize all costs. Second, assume that the water inside the bottle is exactly the same as what comes out of the tap (though I assure you, some tap water tastes pretty bad).

    Some people may still be willing to pay the price here in Palo Alto (where the tap water tastes pretty good BTW). Maybe it really is more convenient for them. Maybe they think it raises their status in their local primate dominance hierarchy. Maybe some deep psychological need makes them feel happier when they drink from a fresh bottle.

    Who are you or I to say those preferences are "wrong" if they're willing to pay the price? They are balancing the pricing signal from the market with their own utility function. IMHO, anything beyond that moves from the domain of economics to ideology.

  4. Kevin, we agree, mostly, see this post: http://aguanomics.com/2008/06/paper-or-plastic.html


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