18 August 2008

Bottled Water's Better Than Soda

JWT offers a different view on bottled water:

"I am aware that:
  • shipping costs from places like France, Fiji, New Zealand, etc. are significant.
  • plastic bottles use a lot petroleum to make,
  • plastic bottles go directly into landfill and break down very slowly.
In spite of those facts, I think that the consumption of bottled water needs to be viewed in terms of long term dietary trends in the U. S.

Since roughly the 1930's... there has been a long term decline in per capita alcohol consumption. Hard liquor consumption just fell off the table and beer is in slow decline. Wine consumption in flat at best. There are just some really significant changes going on and they are really long term trends.

What did grow during that time period was consumption of soft drinks. All during the 1990's, per capita consumption grew around 3% a year. In the 2000's, they have been declining about 3% annually. The figures are still astounding. Here is the per capita consumption of 12 oz cans:

789 in 2007
814 in 2006
828 in 2005
849 in 2000

Since I don't drink any, I wonder who is drinking my 789 cans of pop each year.

As soft drink consumption has declined in this decade, the consumption of bottled water has been growing at roughly 9% annually.

Now lets put this in perspective. In 2007, the dollar value of soft drinks consumed in the U.S. was just over $70 billion. The same number for bottled water is $12 billion.

From this view, consumption of bottled water is a good thing. It is beyond question that we have a very serious obesity problem in the U.S., and we have accompanying health problems. I would love to see every one of those 12 oz soft drinks replaced by bottled water. And remember that many of those soft drinks are also packaged in plastic bottles.

My take is that every can of pop replaced by a bottle of water is a very, very good thing. You can't get fat drinking water and you can't get diabetes from drinking water, so we won't have to pay for the health care costs from those problems. When those very real benefits are weighed against the costs listed at the beginning of this rant, I think bottle water wins by a wide margin.

What is really encouraging is that on my last gig at the University California Irvine everyone seemed to be carrying a bottle of water, and it seemed like there was a bottle on most desks in the class room. Fifty years ago, anyone seen carrying a bottle of water around the University of Minnesota campus would have been laughed out of town. So changing social values are on the side of bottled water."

Bottom Line: Always remember what goes into opportunity costs. If people drink bottled water instead of soda, we can be grateful. If they are replacing tap water, we can be sad. [I see a poll topic here...]

6 comments:

  1. Now will we see the Evian disposable bottles wane in favor of Nalgene and other reusable bottles filled from the tap?

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  2. This post was basically argueing that the external health costs of soft drinks are greater than the external environmental costs of bottled water.
    If this is the case, then taxes on soft drinks should be higher than on bottled water. However, currently there are no pigouvian taxes raised on either product.

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  3. Want to convince me of the scientific community's opinion that everyone who drink's bottled water is an idiot? Provide tap water that's actually tolerable.

    Want to convince me of the scientific community's opinion that acupuncture accomplishes nothing? Then show me a science-endorsed method that actually, you know, fixes my back pain.

    Want to convince me of the scientific community's success in understanding human psychology? Then tell me why no academic has been able to accomplish what "pick-up" artist "Mystery" has accomplished.

    Want to convince me of the merit of fashionable educational theories? Produce schools that outperform homeschoolers.

    Real results trump discussion of results, every time.

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  4. "Want to convince me of the scientific community's opinion that everyone who drink's bottled water is an idiot? Provide tap water that's actually tolerable."

    you obviously live in a place that has bad tap water-which is NOT true across the board. I'd bet most people can't even tell the difference between bottled water and tap, especially if both were cold. People who drink bottled water aren't necessarily idiots. It is sad however when people who live in places that do have great tap water (such as in San Francisco) still pay for bottled water that comes from who knows where. Try simply putting a pitcher of tap water in the fridge and drink it cold, you may like it.

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  5. Woah there... those stats as presented seem a bit disingenuous.

    Some quick google research seems to indicate that those numbers are per capita consumption of 12-oz servings of soda, not actual 12-oz cans.
    A lot of your undrunk share of soda is consumed by others in the form of bottles or 64 oz double-gordo fountain cups.


    BTW... that amount of soda comes out to ~68,000 AF for the nation.

    -JaredM
    /drinking my 12 oz red bull
    //the taller-shaped can probably makes the can even more resource-intensive

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  6. Above comment "This post was basically argueing that the external health costs of soft drinks are greater than the external environmental costs of bottled water." I don't think that is completely the case. Soda has its EV externalities too, in fact a bottle of coke has the same as a bottle of Dasani. Soda also has EV externalities associated with the usage of high fructose corn syrup, and water use, and I could keep going. Head to head Dasani vs. Coke; Dasani wins on both fronts, I say. That said drinking bottled tap water isn't necessary(neither is soda), nor is drinking bottled water where the tap water doesn't kill you or taste badly.

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