Sunday, July 19, 2015

On Public Drinking Fountains

I'm old enough to be fond of drinking fountains, except the ones that only dribble out small amounts of water. According to an op-ed from the Washington Post (reprinted today in the Star Tribune), people under 40 have no such fondness.

I took drinking fountains for granted until about 10 years ago when the Minneapolis-based puppet theater In the Heart of the Beast did a show and ongoing awareness campaign called Invigorate the Common Well, which called attention to the loss of drinking fountains in public spaces and its relation to the privatization of water. As the CEO of Nestle recently reminded us, some people think access to clean water is not a right. If he has his way, it's something to be sold off at the highest price and in the most wasteful packaging possible.

Some facts from the op-ed:

Attitudes began to shift in the 1970s, when Europe’s Perrier set its sights on the American market. In 1977, the company spent $5 million on an advertising campaign in New York, selling itself as a chic, upscale product. Yuppies lapped it up. “It was a lifestyle-defining product,” Chapelle says. By 1982, U.S. bottled-water consumption had doubled to 3.4 gallons per person per year.
American bottlers soon followed with Aquafina, Dasani, and others.
Homegrown brands...couldn’t boast glamorous European roots. So instead, they made Americans afraid of the tap. One ad from Royal Spring Water claimed that “tap water is poison.” Another, from Calistoga Mountain Spring Water, asked: “How can you be sure your water is safe? … Unfortunately, you can’t.” Fiji Water infuriated Ohio with the tagline “The label says Fiji because it’s not bottled in Cleveland.” The insinuation, of course, was that there was something wrong with local water.
It worked:
In 1987, Americans consumed about seven gallons of bottled water per person annually. In 2014, we were drinking 34 gallons per year. Americans now drink more bottled water than milk or beer. Today, 77 percent of Americans are concerned about pollution in their drinking water, according to Gallup, even though tap water and bottled water are treated the same way, and studies show that tap is as safe as bottled.
The less kids trust water fountains, the more sugared drinks they consume; kind of a problem. And it takes 1.5 million barrels of oil to create the 50 billion plastic water bottles we're using each year in the U.S. Which doesn't count the gas burned to move the water around for sale.

And it's not cheap to buy bottled water, of course, because if it were, what would be the point of selling it?
Drinking eight glasses of tap water a day costs about 49 cents a year. If you got that hydration exclusively from bottles, you’d pay about $1,400, or 2,900 times more. If you’re living at the poverty line, that’s 10 percent of your income.
I'll stick with my tap water and the drinking fountains I find out in the world. (Seward Co-op on Franklin has one that I particularly like.) Drinking fountains, like public libraries, are part of the Commons; something we have to fight to maintain despite the increasing onslaught of privatization.

1 comment:

Gina said...

Bottled water didn't come into my consciousness until I went to Europe in college. Then I discovered mineral water. I LOVE mineral water, but you cannot buy it cheaply here as you can in Europe. I'm not talking about Perrier or any of the other fancy-schmancy bottled water; no, I'm talking about genuine mineral water, chock full of healthful, tart and tangy minerals.

Having said that, I must stay as hydrated as possible all the time, so I buy bottled water for those times my water bottle would be way too big to carry or to drink. Otherwise, I carry a water bottle I fill at the tap, put in the fridge to chill, and refill at the water fountain at work.

No human being should have to pay for potable water. It is essential to life and for that reason needs to be free for everyone, even the idiots who think it's perfectly all right to convince people that bottled water is different from tap (some bottled water is just tap water in a bottle and sold). I suspect their next trick will be to push even more the flavored bottled water.....