'World News' Hits the (Water) Bottle Again

     It must be summer rerun season because the July 9 ABC “World News with Charles Gibson” report on bottled water sounded a lot like the one from a day earlier. For the second consecutive night, ABC aired a story criticizing the bottled water industry for the environmental cost.


     “There are billions and billions and billions of these [water bottles] that end up in landfills every year,” correspondent Ryan Owens said to an unidentified man drinking bottled water.


     Owens beat up on bottled water, using the same line from the previous ABC report – that water bottles pile up in landfills and require a certain amount of resources to produce and ship. He quoted a mayor who has banned the bottles.


     “We just need to get away from these wasteful environmentally disastrous consumer habits that have been developed and get back to drinking water out of the tap,” said Salt Lake City’s mayor Rocky Anderson to ABC.


     Anderson has an axe to grind with the bottled water industry. Owens said Anderson called bottle water “the greatest marketing scam in history” and his city has banned city departments from purchasing it.


     But a spokesman from the bottled water industry just sees the industry as an easy target in the green craze because of its high visibility.


     “People are scrambling and looking for ways to go green,” said Stephen R. Kay Vice President of Communications for the International Bottled Water Association to the Business & Media Institute. “It’s not a bottle versus tap water issue to us.”


     Kay pointed out advertising expenditures for bottled water are among the lowest of all commercial products and consumers were choosing it at their own discretion.


     “While all beverages have their role in a marketplace with an abundance of drink choices, consumers are choosing bottled water as a refreshing, hydrating beverage and as an alternative to others that may contain calories, caffeine, sugar, artificial colors, alcohol or other ingredients, which they wish to moderate or avoid,” Kay said in a press release in April.


     Similar to the previous night’s story, the ABC “World News” quoted a restaurant owner – this time in the San Francisco area – that has opted for tap water over bottled water.


     “Seems kind of foolish to be serving water in glass or plastic bottles when we have great tap water here,” said Mark Pastore, owner of the Incanto Restaurant.


     But Kay told BMI that restaurant owners also have the option of recycling instead of just “throwing the bottle away.” That possibility was not mentioned by the restaurant owners or ABC News.


     “But most people don’t [recycle],” said Owens. “Only one in five of these bottles ends up at a recycling center like this. The vast majority, some 38 billion last year alone, end up at landfills where scientists can only guess could take a thousand years for them to breakdown.”


     Bottled water is not the only packaged food product and “packaging is an everyday fact of life in this country,” Kay said. He added that water bottles were high in demand by recyclers because they are easy to recycle and in most cases unlike other food packaging leave no residue.


     Another argument detractors of bottled water use is the amount of energy it takes to ship. “Experts estimate it requires 462 million gallons of oil to ship and truck all those bottles to a store near you,” said Owens.


     But bottled water is a highly regionalized product according to Kay. Whereas 25 to 30 percent of wine in the United States is imported, only 2 to 5 percent of bottled water is imported. “The industry is very regional or localized,” Kay said.


     The television network newscasts have been highlighting their environmental reporting in the wake of Al Gore’s “Live Earth” concerts that intended to “combat global warming.”


     ABC “World News” condemned bottled water for contributing to global warming on July 8. However, one of the most outspoken proponents of Gore’s movement, radical environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who called politicians “indentured servants” of the coal and oil industry at “Live Earth,” owns his own bottled water company.

     “It is a legitimate food product,” added Kay. “It has a place in our free market economy.”