The Rise of the Bottled Water Empire

Does anyone else remember a time when water wasn’t a thing


As a kid, I think the only time I drank water was from a little wax coated Dixie cup at my bathroom sink when I needed to swallow a Children’s Tylenol. With my school lunch was a juice box; summer camp meant Capri Sun, or Nestle powdered iced tea and lemonade. At a horse show, if we were thirsty, there was always an orange Gatorade brand thermos filled with water (probably from a hose) and a sleeve of paper cone cups. I drank soda – coke and sprite mixed together – and occasionally Pellegrino because we were Italian and that was just something we did.

I can’t remember giving a single thought to being hydrated, much less ever buying a bottle of water, although I do remember it being widely accepted by my family that the tap water at my Grandmother’s house in Brooklyn was superior to that of our apartment in Manhattan. 

Though mineral water is not new, and Hippocrates himself (father of Western medicine as we know it) invented what is likely the first water filtration system, the total reliance on getting one’s daily 8 glasses from bottled water was a paradigm shift that I believe I witnessed in my lifetime. 

I can distinctly recall this shift at some point in the 90s, and a little online research corroborates my memory. According to an essay written for Serious Eats, online mecca for all things related to food and drink nerd-dom, the rise in the public awareness and consumption of bottled water can be traced to, among other health scares, a water-borne parasite epidemic in Milwaukee in 1993 that made tens of thousands of people sick.    

Pepsi cashed in on the newfound fear of tap water and launched Aquafina. Coke followed soon after with Dasani. Though the Aquafina bottle portrays a golden sun setting behind a majestic blue mountain, the water comes not from an idyllic spring but rather public municipal water sources. 


Yes, folks, you read that right. Aquafina is just filtered tap water. 


So is this just a slick marketing ploy to make the hapless American consumer spend money on useless status symbols?

Does anyone else feel totally water logged? Sorry for the TMI, but all this hydration means I reach my daily step goal by walking back and forth to the bathroom.


Forgive me another foray down memory lane. I recall distinctly a time when we were taught in school the importance of the three Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This triumvirate was invariably paired with the iconic recycling mobius strip logo that had been designed by Gary Anderson way back in 1970 (before my time….I’m not that old!). 

As far as I remember, the first step was to REDUCE the use of disposable and single use items, then figure out a way to REUSE them. Once those two possibilities were exhausted, RECYCLE was the final option. 

At what point did we forget about the reduce and reuse and skip straight to the recycle?

Recycling, especially plastic, is a decidedly imperfect system, and is not, in fact, a closed loop as the logo would have you believe. Whereas glass and metal can be recycled an infinite number of times without degradation of the material, plastic has only a few cycles before it is recycled into unsuitability. Moreover, water bottles are usually recycled into materials such as fabric, shoes and the stuff of park benches and playground equipment. What happens to that stuff once it has reached the end of its lifespan? It gets trashed. 

The bottom line is that all plastic will eventually end up in a landfill where it will sit for all of eternity.

If you are like I used to be, and think that every time you toss your water bottle into the blue bin, magic recycling fairies turn it back into a water bottle, you’re wrong. Sorry!


The takeaway:

-      Get into the habit of bringing a reusable bottle with you wherever you go. If you forget, ask yourself if you are really thirsty.

-      Ask your horse show managers to provide large water dispensers rather than selling or giving away small bottles. 

-      Worried about the cleanliness of tap water? Invest in a filtration pitcher. Many brands of reusable bottles (such as Britta) have their own filtration system built in so you can refill on the go.

-      Try charcoal! Sticks such as these are an easy and portable tool to have in your going green arsenal that allows you to turn any water into filtered water. Unlike traditional filters, which are usually wrapped in plastic casings, these can be composted or even ground up and used as plant food.