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College campuses across the country are restricting or banning the sale of bottled water. Instead they’re promoting “hydration stations,” where students can fill up their own reusable bottles with filtered tap water. The groups behind “ban the bottle” campaigns cite environmental concerns over plastic bottle manufacture and waste as their motivation. But critics say students have a right to choose what they drink, and that without bottled water on offer, students will reach for sugary beverages like soda instead. We explore the debate over banning the bottle on campuses.
- Meghan Chapple-Brown Director, Office of Sustainability, George Washington University
- Marlee Baron Former co-president, co-president Vermont Students Towards Environmental Protection (VSTEP)
- Katy Kiefer Food and Water Watch
- Chris Hogan Vice President of Communications, International Bottled Water Association (IBWA)
International Bottled Water Association Video
The Story of Bottled Water
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. With slogans like Think Outside the Bottle and Take Back the Tap, student and environmental groups have been pushing colleges and universities to reduce plastic waste from bottled water and promote tap water. As a result, more than 90 campuses across the country now ban or restrict the sale of bottled water. And many colleges now feature hydration stations where students can fill their own bottles with free filtered tap water.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINot everyone is on board, however. Even some who are sympathetic to the cause feel the move is radical. They say taking away bottled water as a choice has unintended consequences, including more students reaching for soft drinks. The campus movements are part of a larger debate over the bottled water industry and what the $11 billion industry means for the environment, city water systems and our health.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss this in studio is Katy Kiefer. Katy Kiefer is the activist network coordinator for Food and Water Watch, an advocacy organization that promotes safe, accessible and sustainable food and water. Katy Kiefer, thank you for joining us.
MS. KATY KIEFERThanks so much for having me.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Alexandria, Va. is Chris Hogan, vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association. Chris Hogan, thank you for joining us.
MR. CHRIS HOGANThanks very much for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Chicago is Marlee Baron, former co-president of Vermont Students Toward Environmental Protection, VSTEP. She held that title while an undergraduate at the University of Vermont. She is, it is my understanding, moving to California shortly for a job at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. Marlee Baron, thank you for joining us.
MS. MARLEE BARONThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIt's a bottled water ban conversation you can join at 800-433-8850. Do you think we should reduce or eliminate bottled water, why or why not? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Katy, your organization helped to organize some of the student campaigns on campuses around restricting or banning bottled water. Why the focus on bottled water?
KIEFERYeah, so we're currently working with about -- over 50 campuses working right now to reduce or ban the use of bottled water on college campuses all over the country. And we really think it's such an important effort because there is a ton of student support around this initiative. Students know and recognize that bottled water is bad for the environment. It doesn't make economic sense.
KIEFERAnd, really, the overarching point here is that water is a fundamental human right, access to water, and so we see an ideological problem with the idea of bottling such an essential human resource when it should be available free and enter the public through tap water systems.
NNAMDIWhy is bottled water bad for the environment?
KIEFERIt creates plastic waste -- that's an obvious concern of ours and of the students that work on these campaigns -- ending up in our landfills. Only one out of every four bottles is eventually recycled. And, beyond that, it costs -- it uses an extremely high amount of energy to create these bottles, as well as the water that goes into creating the plastic bottles, and also the energy to contributing to climate change that is used to transport the bottles all over the country.
KIEFERSo tap water is definitely the most environmentally friendly beverage that we can provide to the public.
NNAMDIChris Hogan, you represent the bottled water industry. What do you say to the ban the bottle movements?
HOGANWell, I think, for starters, obviously, we disagree with the idea of banning or restricting access to bottled water, and, primarily for us, this is an issue of choice. Very often, the situation is presented as a bottled water versus tap water argument, and, at least from our perspective, it's not. Bottled water competes with other packaged beverages. We really don't compete with bottled water -- I'm sorry, with tap water. If people wish to drink tap water -- and most people who drink bottled water do drink tap water -- that's perfectly fine with us. That's not an issue.
HOGANBut we feel that removing the choice for people who either prefer bottled water for personal reasons or health reasons need to opt for bottled water because of its reliable consistent nature. Or if they don't happen to have a reusable canister with them or if there are not water fountains available, or if they just have concerns about the quality of tap water, they should have the right to choose bottled water among other packaged beverages.
HOGANAnd removing bottled water from college campuses in particular really leaves people with the choice of high-calorie, sugared beverages when it comes to making a purchase at a point of sale. You know, as I said, we compete with packaged beverages. We don't compete with tap water. And removing that choice is really a concern to us.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. If other beverages like soda are on sale on campus, do you think it's fair to ban only bottled water? 800-433-8850. Marlee Baron, you organized the original campaign at the University of Vermont back in 2008. How did you get involved in this issue?
BARONWell, when I first got to school, it was actually through an environmental anthropology course that I took that introduced me to all of the issues with water privatization and some of the worldwide atrocities that had occurred in -- throughout the world through having privatized water systems. And that led me -- through an activism perspective project actually that was assigned in that class, we had to come up with sort of a local application to this large -- to a large scale environmental problem.
BARONAnd my group chose the issue of bottled water. And we chose to come up with sort of the framework for a campaign of how our campus could (unintelligible).
NNAMDIYou started with a single day, it's my understanding, correct?
NNAMDIYou started with a single day.
BARONA single day, yeah. We had -- we organized in -- the first one was actually on Earth Day in 2009. So my second year on campus, we had -- we called it bring your own bottle, BYOB, day. And we got most of the vending locations on campus to participate in withholding sales of bottle water to kind of grab people's attention and force them, for that one day, to listen to the concerns that we had for all of the impacts of purchasing bottled water.
NNAMDIKaty, environmental concerns, you mentioned some of them about bottled water, the reason many people joined campaigns like the one on campuses. I guess the bottled water industry would make the argument that, look, bottled water packaging is recyclable. Why are you concerned?
BARONWell, so one concern is that a lot of the plastic used in bottled water -- or to encase this water is not actually ending up in recycling plants. Most -- a lot -- there's so much plastic waste that ends up, you know, in the ocean, and it just doesn't make it to recycling plants. There's also a lot of energy...
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt.
NNAMDIChris Hogan, that is, indeed, true. But what does the industry do or plan to do about that?
HOGANWell, I think we would certainly agree that recycling rates need to improve, and I certainly don't dispute that people do not recycle at the rate that they should or at the level that they should. And as an industry, we're very much aware of this. And I should also point out that when we talk about recycling, it's important to have a discussion about all packaged goods. And to pick out bottled water specifically is a little bit disingenuous because...
NNAMDIWe're going to go down that road in a second...
NNAMDI...but I want to get to a couple of other issues. First, Marlee, what does a campus have to do to make the adjustment and ensure that there's drinking water available if you're taking away the bottled water option?
BARONIt requires a large systemic approach to the infrastructure in campus. So, first of all, doing an inventory of the drinking -- the water refill stations on campus as they came to be known at UVM. So more than just the drinking -- well, first of all, making sure that drinking fountains are readily accessible on all points on campus, making sure that they can -- that they're convenient to refill a water bottle, not just to drink from, making sure that they're chilled and, you know, have new piping, also making sure that enough students on campus own and use reusable water bottles.
BARONSo this is something that gets into behavioral psychology of the campus community to make sure that, you know, it's part of people's daily behavior to remember to bring their water bottle. And that's something that's encouraged and incentivized on campus.
NNAMDIIf you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to contact us by email, you can send it to email@example.com, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. In case you were wondering what's happening at universities here in D.C., we've invited in studio Meghan Chapple-Brown, who is the director of the George Washington University's Office of Sustainability. Meghan Chapple-Brown, thank you for joining us.
MS. MEGHAN CHAPPLE-BROWNMy pleasure. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIGW's initiatives around water come out of your office, the Office of Sustainability. Like many universities, I understand that this office is relatively new. What does it actually do?
CHAPPLE-BROWNWell, the office itself has a pretty small staff, and we see ourselves as integrators. And the idea is to integrate sustainability into all aspects of the university. So that can range from solar panels on our rooftops, which heat our hot water, to -- we just launched a new minor in sustainability that all undergraduates can take. So our job is really to help make the organization itself more sustainable.
NNAMDIGW does not have an outright ban on bottled water. What's been the university's approach to drinking water on campus?
CHAPPLE-BROWNWe've had a broader approach to water in general. And last Earth Week, we put out our G water plan. And the idea was to look at water holistically. And we just closed what we are calling our water footprint, and we're hoping that other universities will catch on to that as well.
CHAPPLE-BROWNAnd bottled water is a component of that water footprint, so we're looking at how much potable water we use, what the runoff of rainwater is from our campus and how that affects our Potomac watershed and the quality of the water that we're putting down our drains through the products we use and then also what our bottled water usage is.
NNAMDIWhat intrigues me most is that, it is my understanding, that you put out a water menu.
CHAPPLE-BROWNWe did. We did put out a water menu, and it's...
NNAMDIPray tell. What is a water menu?
CHAPPLE-BROWNWell, it's sort of like something you might find in a restaurant, tells you a difference on what you can choose from when you're going to consume something, just like you would consume in a restaurant. But the main choices on the menu are tap water and bottled water. And, again, we didn't put out a ban. Being an urban campus, it's really integrated into the city, into Washington, D.C.
CHAPPLE-BROWNIt just wasn't realistic, and we know people are coming, going off our campus all the time. But we wanted to give folks more of an understanding of what their options are. So the menu talks about what the regulations and safety are on both bottled water and tap water, what the environmental impacts of each are, the cost for each and the taste and some of the observations around taste.
NNAMDIYou also do taste tests during Earth Week. How does that work?
CHAPPLE-BROWNWell, it's just sort of a fun exercise. We don't log or document. And we haven't been studying or monitoring results. But the idea was to make it more of a fun event. And it's a blind taste test, and we have pitchers with different kinds of water in it. And then students and faculty and staff and others in the community are invited to just try the water and see if they can tell a difference. And, really, it's a way to strike up conversation and make people think about the situation.
NNAMDIA lot of colleges and universities are installing hydration stations. How about GW?
CHAPPLE-BROWNWe have different approaches in different situations, so in some of our resident's house, we do have hydration stations. Our law school has just installed inline filtration systems, along with bottle fillers that they've had at their water fountains for a while. We've committed to have all new construction in our buildings to have inline filtration systems with the bottle fillers.
CHAPPLE-BROWNAnd, right now, we're also looking into a vending alternative that would allow a consumer to choose a reusable bottle or to just fill their already owned bottle at a significantly lower cost than buying an entire bottled water. But the bottled water options will still be there on campus as well.
NNAMDIKaty Kiefer, what do think about what Meghan Chapple-Brown in George Washington University is doing on campus?
KIEFERI think it all sounds really great, you know, and it's, again, part of this growing movement, you know, against bottled water on our campuses. I think that creating opportunities for students to have access to public tap water is really the key to really successful campaigns like this or, you know, efforts to reduce bottled water usage. And I think, you know, and the taste tests going on at GW are similar to taste tests that our students are running all over the country and that we do -- you know, we do have some of tracking of those types of numbers that, you know, not only are -- is it...
NNAMDIWhat do those numbers tell you?
KIEFERSo, you know, just -- in case by case bases, there's, you know, often -- at least, 50 percent, you know, split between choosing bottle water or tap water. Often, you know, most of the time, you can't tell the difference between tap water and bottled water, and, in many cases, you know, students are choosing tap water in terms of taste as an -- as a preference.
NNAMDIChris Hogan, well, GW has not banned bottled water. How do you feel about what's going on there?
HOGANWell, I think it's a very smart approach to look at water as a holistic issue. And GW, as you noted, it is also an urban campus where it's much more integrated into the city of people who have different needs, different demands for choice. And, by looking at the issue of choice across a broad spectrum, I think, it's a smart compromise to give people the option and the understanding of choices between bottled water, between tap water and just what's available and what the qualities of each product are.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on bottled water bans and the movement that has grown around it and take your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you drink the tap water where you live? Do you carry a reusable bottle for water? 800-433-8850, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about bottled water and the movement to ban it on college campuses. We are talking with Katy Kiefer. She is the activist network coordinator for Food and Water Watch, which is an advocacy organization that promotes safe, accessible and sustainable food and water. Marlee Baron is the former co-president of Vermont Students Towards Environmental Protection. She held that title while an undergraduate at the University of Vermont.
NNAMDIChris Hogan is vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association. And Meghan Chapple-Brown is the director of George Washington University's office of sustainability. We've been taking your calls at 800-433-8850. We got an email from Cathy in Phoenix, Ariz., who said, "I couldn't agree with the gentleman in favor of bottled water more. If water is a given right, then we need to be able to make this a choice."
NNAMDI"People need to be encouraged to hydrate, and water is the healthiest choice. What should be discouraged are the bottled juices and sugar drinks, although, again, they should be available as a choice. I routinely reuse bottles, washing them and refilling them with water from my reverse osmosis system." I'd like you to expand a little bit, Katy Kiefer, on what I understand to be your view about the privatization of water.
KIEFERYeah, so this is a really important point in our efforts to oppose bottled water. The problem is that bottled water is undermining our trust in our public tap water systems and our support of our public tap water systems. And as I said, we see water as a basic fundamental human right. And so the difference between beverages like soda, juice, beer, you know, those are things that are not -- only available in a bottle and, you know, sold by a private entity.
KIEFERBut tap water is different because it's available -- you know, available to the public out of the public tap. And so that's why we think it's so important that tap water or that bottled water or that water remains in public hands and comes to us through the tap.
NNAMDIIs there a concern of yours that there is -- if not in nefarious plot and conspiracy -- that there is definitely a trend worldwide to privatizing water?
KIEFERAbsolutely. We see that as a huge problem worldwide as you said. The problem is that water is a scarce resource. It's becoming more scarce. And if we're allowing private companies, private interests to own such an essential human resource, it's going to come down to who has money and who doesn't.
KIEFERAnd that's why it's important, again, that we keep water democratically controlled and owned in public hands and why, I think, it's so dangerous that the bottled water industry is able to bottle up, you know, often municipal water resources or bottle up, you know, spring water in environmentally sensitive areas.
HOGANKojo, if I could add...
NNAMDII was about to ask you to respond to that, Chris Hogan.
HOGANWell, first off, let's put things in perspective. The bottled water industry accounts for less than 2/100 of 1 percent of the total ground water that's drawn in the United States each year. So, first of all, we are a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of water taken out of the ground for any purpose. And the purpose of bottled water is specifically for human consumption as opposed to water taken out for agriculture, for other uses that is not used for human consumption.
HOGANAdditionally, I think it's important to point out that when it comes to choice, the bottled water industry is not somehow limiting or removing the option of tap water for people. As Katy points out, tap water is a municipal resource, certainly in the United States. Much of the tap water is fine for consumption. People can drink it whenever they want. They have access to it. Certainly, people on college campuses have access to tap water. Bottled water is an option when people are looking for a healthy, safe and consistently reliable source of hydration.
NNAMDIAllow me to bring our listeners in on this conversation. Thank you for waiting, Patrick. You're on the air. Go ahead, please. Patrick, are you there? Patrick?
PATRICKYeah, I'm here.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, please.
PATRICKJust responding to the choice argument, I don't think any college student, with what you guys are talking about before, would go up to a Coke machine, see that there's no water available, if that's what they wanted, and then decides to spend $2 or $3 on a Coke. I think they would immediately seek out the nearest free soda fountain. Like I said, I was a college student not long ago, so I just don't see someone wanting bottled water getting disappointed and then spending it on a sugary drink that they didn't want in the first place.
NNAMDICare to respond to that, Marlee Baron?
BARONYes, I couldn't agree more. That was, you know, an issue that was brought up to my group when we were staging this campaign many times, that we were just promoting people to drink more unhealthy beverages. And I agree with our...
BARON...Patrick, that people who are choosing to drink water in the first place are not going to want to instead drink something that's not water.
NNAMDIOn the other hand, here's Rick in Martinsburg, W. Va. Rick, your turn.
RICKThe first thing I'd like to say is, don't forget when you talk about municipal water sources, there's still a good portion of the country that still uses well water. But my original question has to deal with why on college campuses, are bottled water -- or why is bottled water being singled out, and not just any pre-packaged drink? Thanks for your time.
BARONCan I respond to that?
NNAMDIYes, you can.
BARONSo -- yeah, so our campaign at the University of Vermont was often sort of confused with a bottled water banning campaign. And while that was the result of the past few years of campaigning, our campaign had actually evolved by the end of my time in UVM to be a sustainable beverage system campaign, meaning that we fully recognize the shared impacts of all bottled beverages. And we actually were urging the university to, first off, ban everything that falls under bottled, so flavored water and vitamin water and smart water.
BARONAll of those things that don't -- that were not actually covered under the ban because we saw those as just as confusing to consumers who were trying to, you know, do the more ecologically sustainable choice. We also had high hopes that the university would consider phasing out all beverages that are sold in single-use plastic containers because we see, you know, soda, juice, anything that's water based is still essentially the same product as a bottle of water, just with some added sugar and coloring to it.
BARONSo, while there are many universities that, you know, have only sort of voiced a concern so far for bottled water, at UVM, we were very concerned with all -- with the entire industry of bottled beverages.
NNAMDIMeghan Chapple-Brown, speculate for me for a minute. What do you think would happen if there was an attempt to ban all bottled beverages from your college campus?
CHAPPLE-BROWNYeah, that wouldn't fly. I don't think that that's what our students or faculty or staff want in general. People do want the choice. Our approach has been more to think about water is a healthy option. It is an affordable option. It is a healthy option because it is necessary for life. And the idea is for us to highlight water more than others and giving options, so that it's easy, it's convenient, it's easy to find.
CHAPPLE-BROWNRight now, you know, some of our buildings, it's harder to find the water fountains. They're not in a centrally located area where you think to go get something when you go to the vending machine. So making it more convenient is important, too.
NNAMDIKaty, one of the points that many anti-bottled water campaigns emphasize is the difference in cost between bottled water and tap water. What is the difference?
KIEFERAnd so -- excuse me -- bottled water -- or, sorry, tap water costs between .002 and .003 cents, you know, compared to bottled water that costs thousands of times that, you know, per ounce.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Fairfax Water, which serves most of Fairfax. "We serve most of Fairfax, Va." saying it's not a public agency. It's private because it's paid for by fees. What would you say to that?
KIEFERSo, yeah, I mean, there definitely is a cost to maintaining public water systems, and that gets, again, back to the point on privatization. The problem, you know, that a lot of people have, you know, with this effort is that, you know, we should have the options, you know, of bottled water. The problem is that these -- the trends -- you know, so between 2000 -- or 1997, 2008, the increase in bottled water sales, we saw a direct decrease in funding for public water infrastructure that relates to that.
KIEFERSo that's a problem because we shouldn't have to go out and buy a bottle of water if you want safe public tap water. And, you know, water quality varies all over the country, and it is in large part because we have incredibly aging infrastructure. A lot of place is over a century old that we've had, you know, these -- our water infrastructure built. You know, that's when the Henry Ford was building the first Model T car. And so, you know, we really need to create a better system.
KIEFERWe need to create a funding mechanism so that, you know, our municipal water sources around the country are really protected and supported because people shouldn't have to be faced with this option of having to buy bottled war to drink safe tap water.
NNAMDIHow do you make about the relationship, Chris Hogan, between the decrease in funding for water infrastructure and the increase in spending on bottled water?
HOGANWell, I mean, I don't really have any particular insight on that, but I think it's -- there are couple important things to point out. The first is bottled water growth. And it is growing, and it continues to grow. The demand for bottled water is consumer driven. There is not some sort of, you know, mysterious organization that's forcing people to buy bottled water. Consumers are looking at the options in front of them, and, very often, they prefer to choose bottled water.
HOGANThat does not mean, as I said before, that they don't drink tap water. In some places, tap water is not as reliable when it comes to health, and so people choose bottled water. In other cases, they don't like the taste of chlorine, or they just, you know, prefer the convenience of bottled water. But to blame the...
NNAMDIWell, let me put...
HOGAN...people making a choice of bottled water for the decline and the reliability of some municipal infrastructure, I think, is not a very accurate claim to make.
NNAMDIWell, let me put the cost issue another way, Chris. Bottled water is still, regardless of how you calculate it, more expensive than tap. Exactly what are we paying for?
HOGANWell, first of all, this is an argument that -- it makes the rounds on the Internet a lot. And the claims go from several hundred times more expensive than tap water to thousands of times. People buy bottled water in a variety of packaging. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, which tracks bottled water among other beverages, people tend more often to buy bottled water in bulk at stores, you know, membership stores and bulk food stores.
HOGANSo when you look at it from that perspective, you know, I think BMC said the average gallon of bottled water at a wholesale rate is $20 or something for a gallon of bottled water. But what you're getting when you buy bottled water is a number of things. You're getting reliable convenience. Bottled water is federally regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. And by federal law, the standards for quality and safety have to be at least as stringent as EPA standards for tap water.
NNAMDII'd like to interrupt on two points about that, one from Meghan Chapple-Brown and the other from a caller. So first, you, Meghan Chapple-Brown.
CHAPPLE-BROWNJust briefly, our research shows that, in Washington, we have one of the best high-tech water filtration systems. And it's run by D.C. Water. And they've used a new logo calling -- you know, water is life, and they are really trying to call attention to the value of that system but are...
NNAMDIWell, just a few years ago, there was controversy over lead in the water in the District of Columbia.
CHAPPLE-BROWNAnd it was in the piping, not in the actual filtration systems.
CHAPPLE-BROWNSo locating those local pipes was important. But the price difference we found was significant, and to the extent that we are able to make a business case within our administration to phase out the larger water coolers in different office areas or academic areas and do an inline filtration if people are concerned about the quality of the tap water or just to make the bottle fillers available.
NNAMDIAnd on the issue of regulation, here is Kaye (sp?) in Silver Spring, Md. Kaye, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KAYEThank you, Kojo. It's a great topic, and bravo to Food & Water Watch and their effort. I was at an environmental film festival event last night at GW. It was on public health, and the speakers on stage were all using bottled water. Bottled water is 40 percent tap water. It is not regulated. We don't know how much is leaching into us. I see it as one of the great frauds brought upon the American public. There was a PBS special (unintelligible) -- oh, yeah.
NNAMDIKaye, I have to interrupt you because you said it is not regulated. Chris Hogan, what do you say?
HOGANWell, that's simply wrong. It is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. As I was saying, by federal mandate, the regulations governing bottled water are equal to or more strict than the EPA regulations that govern tap water. And in some specific cases, such as lead and bacteria control, the FDA regulations are more strict than EPA. And I need to...
HOGANWell, I need to address a couple of these points because this is the kind of...
NNAMDIWell, I wanted to stick with regulation for a second. I will get back to you to address other points. But here's Katy Kiefer on regulation.
KIEFERYeah. I mean, the fact of the matter is it just isn't as stringently regulated as tap water. The EPA is -- has higher standards for our tap water than, you know, the frequently underfunded, understaffed FDA that doesn't, you know, require a stringent regulation of our tap water. And in, you know, the Environmental Working Group found in 2008 that 10 popular brands of bottled water had over 38 chemical pollutants found in it, and it's just not the case that it's any healthier or, you know, better for you than tap water.
HOGANOK. Well, let me--wait...
NNAMDIOK. Before we get to the other points, I have to finish up with Kaye in Silver Spring, Md. Kaye, your turn.
KAYEThank you. Last thoughts on this are a couple of other things. One, gasoline is now approaching or is at $4 a gallon, and the United States uses 24 percent of the world's supply. And for us to encase a few sips of water in what I call petroleum bottles and similar to plastic bottles is just obscene in that testing...
NNAMDIOK. I'm running out of time, Kaye. It's time for Chris Hogan again. Chris, your turn.
HOGANOK. Well, first of all, I still -- I don't quite understand the claim that bottled water is either less regulated or unregulated because it's just factually inaccurate. The FDA is not underfunded. There's often a claim made that there's only one person at the FDA who oversees the bottled water industry, which is a remarkably disingenuous claim. There is an individual who oversees the bottled water section of FDA, but the enforcement and regulation of the bottled water industry is actually managed by all the FDA field offices.
HOGANAnd all state environmental and health offices are essentially deputized and have the same enforcement -- the legal force of the FDA when they do their state inspection.
NNAMDISo what we are having an argument about here is which one is more regulated, bottled water or tap water.
HOGANWell, and--well, and let me just...
NNAMDII think we can agree, for the purpose of me going to a break, that they are both regulated for the time being.
HOGANWell, and, Kojo, please, let...
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. I'll get back with you and all of our panelists after this short break, Chris Hogan. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on bottled water and the move to ban it on some college campuses across the country. We're talking with Chris Hogan. He is vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association. Katy Kiefer is the activist network coordinator for Food and Water Watch, which is an advocacy organization that promotes safe, accessible and sustainable food water. Marlee Baron is the former co-president of Vermont Students Toward Environmental Protection.
NNAMDIShe held that title while an undergraduate at the University of Vermont. Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of George Washington University's Office of Sustainability, had to leave. She has a class coming up shortly. But, Chris Hogan, you wanted to say something, and then we do have to move on.
HOGANAbsolutely. I just wanted to quickly go back. Katy commented on the Environmental Working Group's 2008 study, and it's really -- this is where a lot of the disingenuous attacks tend to come from. The 2008 study by the Environmental Working Group cited a market-basket test of nine -- excuse me, 10 brands of water from nine states in the District of Columbia, which is not a national study.
HOGANBut, more importantly, they essentially drew the claim that if any chemical in any level was found in bottled water, whether regulated or unregulated, that constituted a health -- a contaminant that should cause a health concern. The substances that were found in the bottled waters that -- during that test, some of them were not even regulated by the EPA or the FDA, and the amount of substances that were found were so small to be non-viable in terms of even being regulated or monitored.
HOGANAnd so this is the kind of very skewed messaging that concerns people but does not provide them with really accurate facts.
NNAMDIKaty Kiefer, during the break, I came to understand that the issue that you see as being important here is transparency.
KIEFERYeah. I mean, I think that the bottom line here is that, you know, we can get into debate about regulation and about, you know, what chemicals are where, but, you know, public water is -- and the regulation in public water is transparent. And that's why it's important that we keep water in public hands so that we can, you know, be held -- we can be holding, you know, those people accountable that are running our water systems.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Leda (sp?) in Silver Spring, Md. "I don't like soda or bottled tea, which is always sweetened, and I drink tap water when it's available. If I drink bottled water, I either finish it or pour out the rest, and I recycle the bottle. But when I have to buy a bottled beverage, I want water. I hate these no bottled water campaigns." And this email we got from Kevin. "I suspect that the groups advocating a ban on bottled water are supported by the soft drink industry. Surely, we should ban soft drinks before banning bottled water." Time for the return of Marlee Baron. Marlee?
BARONWell, I mean, like I stated before, I and the group that I was working with, we were in support, really, of banning all bottled beverages, so as much for the issue of health in what we're consuming to the entire production line of the plastic, you know, there's things that can't be controlled even within the source of the water, where it's being bottled from.
BARONOne of our callers, I think, mentioned the amount of chemicals that are leaching into the water that people consume from disposable bottles through photodegradation of PET plastic and the other types of cheaper made plastics that is holding these disposable -- these beverages. So while I do agree that there are probably larger health concerns with the amount of sodas that are consumed in this country, I think that there's really health risks involved in consuming all beverages that are bottled in these single-use bottles.
NNAMDIOn to Phil in Washington, D.C. Phil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHILHi, Kojo. I just wanted to add something which I don't think I've heard mentioned yet, which is that bottled water, as a packaged product, comes with at least a perceived expiration date printed on it. And I think they call it like a best used by date or something like that. But I can tell you, I had someone who has spent some time looking in dumpsters that still sometimes find these things, cases at a time, just thrown away. And so if we're worried about, you know, water as a limited resource, you know, this is water that's left trapped in plastic and then just ends up in the landfill.
NNAMDIWhy does bottled water have an expiration date, Chris?
HOGANActually, that's a very interesting question. Thank you for bringing that up. As I mentioned, the FDA regulates bottled water as a packaged food product. And as with all packaged food products, whether it's water or any other item, we are required to print on the containers a -- you can call it a best by date or a used by date or a sell by date. And so bottled water manufacturers have, really, no choice. They must put a date on there. However, once bottled water is sealed, it actually has no expiration date, so it can be used indefinitely.
HOGANAnd, typically, the dates that are on the bottles, for practical purposes, are used for stock rotation or things like that, just for people to keep track of when it goes on the shelf. And if I could just add one other thing, there's somewhat expressed concerns about chemicals leaching into the water. PET plastic, which is what single-serve bottled water is packaged in, does not leach any chemicals. And the -- there's no BPA in PET plastic, and PET has been shown safe through numerous studies and is used for packaging in innumerable types of food products.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Phil. We move on to Anise (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Anise, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANISEYes, sir. You know, I live in D.C. I live in a building that was built in the '20s. You know, sometimes the faucet on, you can't help but see little, you know, pieces of rust or, you know, dust -- I don't know exactly what to call it. But, you know, it was my and my wife's choice to buy bottled water to drink because we thought it was safer. You know, I mean, the tap water, I guess, at the plant or wherever, it's -- we find, you know, it's very unsafe.
NNAMDII want to talk about that perception for a second, Anise, because we got an email from Angela in Upper Marlboro, Md., who says, "I wish all water was created equal, but it's not. As someone with gastric digestive issues, I count on bottled water. I would agree that not all bottled water is created equal, but I can depend on it to be consistent. Tap water, on the other hand, is a whole other thing.
NNAMDI"Tap water almost always makes my stomach hurt, and, in some cities, it's worse. When I hear this argument, what I hear is an issue with the plastic containing the water and the gas to transport this water. So this issue is not about tap water versus bottled water, but water versus oil." What do you say to that, Katy?
KIEFERSo I think that, you know, again, this goes back to the point that water quality does vary around the country. We do have some of the best water systems in the world, but we need to be maintaining them and supporting those public water systems. You know, municipalities are definitely strapped for cash in some cases, and they can't maintain these really aging water pipes in our infrastructure for our public water.
KIEFERSo it's really important that, you know, we are able to provide, you know, good, clean, safe public water for all communities. And, you know, the concerns, again, are that if we're enabling our, you know, often, municipal water to be bottled or to be bought out by private companies, you know, we're not keeping those resources where they need to be, which is in democratic hands.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from DC Water, says, "The DC Water TapIt network provides more than 150 city locations that offer free reusable water bottle refills." Thank you for your call, Anise. We move on now to Maura (sp?) in Chevy Chase, Md. Maura, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MAURAWell, Kojo, I know that somebody just mentioned that -- I guess the gentleman from the Bottled Water Industry Association -- that the bottles do not contain BPA, but I don't know. My understanding -- the primary reason that I don't buy it any longer is that, as a breast cancer survivor, I've been told that the BPAs and the phthalates, when the plastic degrades from sitting in a hot car, sitting in the sun, that it's an endocrine disruptor.
MAURAIt -- the chemicals leach into the water when you taste it, and it sort of has that plasticky taste, that it potentially causes or contributes to or accelerates certain cancers like breast and prostate. So I've read this in several reputable -- from several reputable sources. And so I'm just -- would like to hear him address that again.
HOGANSure. Well, first of all, as I mentioned, the PET plastic from which bottled water single-serve containers are made, it does not contain BPA at all. It's simply not there. And there are also no phthalates in PET plastic. There have been a number of rather high-profile celebrities who have essentially blamed bottled water -- either sitting in their car or sitting in a garage -- for contributing to illnesses, including breast cancer. But in terms of just scientific fact, those are incorrect, and there's -- it's simply not the case. And it -- this is very frustrating...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly. Maura, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Ilhan (sp?) who says, "I prefer the taste and perhaps the health benefits of spring water, but I do not want to keep buying plastic water bottles. Why can't points of sale include a fill-up station for spring water where we can fill our own bottles with natural spring water?" Katy Kiefer. That's not a question that you can answer, is it?
KIEFERIt's an interesting idea.
KIEFERYou know, I think that the most important thing is that we're keeping water, you know, in our hands, in public hands and not letting them go -- be sold off to private interests. I mean, that's the bottom line. If people are lucky enough to live near spring water or, you know, places where they can get those resources, then that's great. I think this also highlight, though, you know, another hidden cost of bottled water.
KIEFERYou know, we're talking about the fact that bottled water costs hundreds of thousands of times the cost of tap water, but then, you know, in addition, it's the cost of transporting those bottles and the cost of, you know, the oil and the energy that's used to produce those bottles. So, you know, this is, again, just another point.
NNAMDIOn this matter of choice, Marlee Baron, the University of Vermont recently announced that it is banning the sale of bottled water on campus, which was the goal of your original campaign. But I'm interested in what kind of pushback did you get from students when you proposed banning bottled water at the University of Vermont.
BARONYeah. A lot of the similar concerns that have been brought up by Chris and some of our callers, you know, that removal of choice by the -- of, you know, people at the university, like I mentioned before, the issue of encouraging people to drink other, you know, sodas and juices, I guess -- and then people who said that they couldn't be bothered with the inconvenience of having -- of bringing around their own...
NNAMDINevertheless, it would appear that your movement won. I say that only because I'd like to get in this call from Jordan in Washington, D.C. Jordan, you have about 20 seconds. Go ahead, please.
JORDANYeah. I just wanted to know why water isn't sold more often in boxes, like milk or orange juice, which seemed to alleviate the problems of the plastic degradation. Thank you for taking my call.
HOGANI do know that it has been looked at in the past. I can't speak specifically to why it's not sold in that format, but I do know that, from an industry perspective, PET plastic is the most efficient way to do it.
NNAMDIKaty Kiefer, that wouldn't solve the privatization problem.
KIEFERYeah, just -- that's, you know, the bottom line for us is that that, again, is putting that water resource into private interests. And so we want to keep it public.
NNAMDIKaty Kiefer is the activist network coordinator for Food and Water Watch, an advocacy organization that promotes safe, accessible and sustainable food water. Marlee Baron is the former co-president of Vermont Students Towards Environmental Protection. She held that title while an undergraduate at the University of Vermont.
NNAMDIShe's moving to California shortly for a job at Point Reyes Bird Observatory. And Chris Hogan is vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association. Thank you all for speaking with us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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