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The Press-Enterprise, January 22, 2016

Bottling up profits and leaving the rest of us to pay the price

By Ileene Anderson


Have you seen Arrowhead’s full-page ads here in Southern California? In newspapers and magazines, the bottled water brand owned by Swiss-based Nestlé has gone out of its way to showcase its love for our planet and all things “natural.”

But here’s what you don’t hear: The costs of bottled water are very steep for our planet, wildlife and those of us who value clean, fresh water here in California.

You can start with what’s been happening in the San Bernardino National Forest. For the past 27 years, Arrowhead has extracted more than 1.8 billion gallons from Strawberry Creek – about 68,000 gallons a day. And the U.S. Forest Service has allowed Arrowhead to operate with an expired permit since 1988, without ever looking at the impacts on our public lands, creeks or wild animals that call the forest home.

The Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, in October joined other local and conservation organizations in a lawsuit challenging the Forest Service’s failure to protect our public lands and resources. After 27 years, we’re still waiting for the Forest Service to begin a new process to examine the effect of that pipeline, because Strawberry Creek is home to wildlife that needs that water, including frogs, birds and fish.

But there are larger issues with Nestlé and the bottled water industry.

Even though bottled water quality is about the same as the water quality of most municipal water systems, Nestlé/Arrowhead and other companies charge up to 2,000 times the cost of tap water and then leave the rest of us to clean up the plastic pollution.

That’s no small thing: It’s hard to walk any beach or forest or park without stumbling onto a littered bottle of water. And much of that litter finds its way into the ocean. Billions of pounds of plastic pollution now swirl through our oceans, absorbing toxins that can kill nearly 300 different types of animals, including seabirds, whales, seals and sea turtles.

Nestlé and others imply that litter isn’t their problem and that these bottles should simply be recycled. But only about a third of plastic water bottles nationwide get recycled each year, while the rest are dumped in landfills or littered across the landscape.

The bottles themselves come at a cost, too. Producing plastic requires intensive use of fossil fuels that are pushing our climate to the brink of disaster and helped make 2015 the second-warmest on record in the United States and the warmest ever in California.

Nestlé claims there’s 50 percent recycled plastic in the majority of their bottles. That’s 50 percent of at least 50 percent of bottles, meaning as much as 75 percent of the plastic content is from virgin fossil fuels. That’s not very encouraging.

All that says nothing of the precious resource that’s being sucked out of California to bottle up profits for this industry. Water shapes our land, keeps us healthy, waters our crops and gives life to flora and fauna. But there’s nothing natural about big corporations diverting water from natural lands and pristine aquifers into billions of throwaway plastic bottles and selling it back to us at a premium price – no matter how they try to greenwash the practice.

Yes, Nestlé’s ads are pretty – who doesn’t want to feel like they’re helping to save the planet? But knowing the ugly truth about the litter, pollution and utterly disposable nature of this industry, I find the reality of bottled water very hard to swallow.


Ileene Anderson is a senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity.


Copyright 2016 The Press-Enterprise.

This article originally appeared here.

Jeffrey pine photo by John Villinski.