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Buying Bottled Water: An Act Of Economic, Environmental, Social Blindness

The “blindness” also stems from the fact that we as people have become increasingly susceptible to non-eco friendly behavior and purchasing and consumption patterns which fail to take into account true environmental and social costs of our purchase.

In an extremely enlightening book called Bottled and Sold, Peter Gleick offers a broad indictment of the bottled water industry, which he asserts has successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of a generation of people who would be better off drinking from the tap.

Gleick’s argument regarding buying bottled water as an act of economic, environmental and social blindness refers to the overall relative submissive, consumerist attitude of people, who do not truly understand the true economic, environmental and social cost of producing bottled water.

The motto should be “not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to blind progress”. However, in this case, the rise of the bottled water industry hardly accounts for as ‘progress’, but rather an unsustainable development which has the potential to disrupt the ecological balance if left unchecked.

With the overall negative impact of the production of bottled water being properly quantified by Gleick, by taking into the account the environmental damage caused by setting up of bottled factories (destruction/exhausting of underground aquifers and ground-water depletion), to the harmful effects and non-biodegradability of PET (the main component of bottled water) to the potential bleak future we are led to with the growth of bottled water industry and over-consumerism, makes the existence of the bottled water industry questionable.

It really makes one wonder whether there exists adequate transparency regarding the bottled water industry in India (which is set to reach a market value of Rs 160 billion by next year), and whether pseudo-scientific claims propagated by the marketing of bottled-water are actually kept in check and regulated by a just, uncorrupt central authority (as opposed to the FDA in USA, which was instrumental in being “blind” to these economic, environment and social realities of the bottled water industry).

The “blindness” also stems from the fact that we as people have become increasingly susceptible to non-eco friendly behavior and purchasing and consumption patterns which fail to take into account true environmental and social costs of our purchase.

With every bottle of water we purchase, we are effectively being contributors to an increasingly unstable exploitation of our most precious natural resource. Not only are we being incremental contributors to the rise of morally irresponsible corporate greed, but we are also succumbing to false advertising, and causing a potential increase in a landfill somewhere which will fail to decompose the PET in the bottled water we have purchased and will eventually throw away.

It is also “social blindness” as Gleick clearly elucidates the realities of “recycling” and to what extent it actually occurs. Most importantly, by purchasing bottled water, we exhibit our blindness by making it socially acceptable to acknowledge the failure of the public water utility system in providing safe, potable water.

This failure to adequately utilize the public water distribution system enhances our ignorance regarding the realities about the safety and quality levels of tap water as opposed to bottled water.

Lastly, with hidden costs associated with the production process of bottled water not reflected in the actual prices of bottled water (such as transportation cost, ecological footprint, fuel usage, future waste-disposal cost), we are being economically and socially blind by not paying the optimum price for bottled water, which internalizes the negative externalities of the production of bottled water.

With the rampant market failure associated with under-pricing of bottled water, and the inefficiency of the public water distribution system in catering to the needs of the people, it becomes increasingly important to adapt to the Third Age of the Water, and move on to ‘soft paths’ to ensure universal provision of drinking water.

The Third Age of Water refers to “a more sustainable approach that recognizes the realities of a renewable but ultimately limited resource.” With effective dissemination of information to the public and widespread effort by the state to enhance quality of public water utilities, we may gradually move away from this norm of ‘economic, environmental and social blindness’ linked to the purchase of bottled water, and move towards a sustainable, ‘green’ economy, where tap water is once again regarded as safe, and the blind ignorance regarding its quality is forever done away with.



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