18 Aug 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...]