Friday, February 9, 2007

Bottled Insanity - (Toxic Nightmares)

This article speaks for itself. Commentary from me is superfluous.

Bottled Insanity


by Michael I. Niman

It’s got to be one of life’s cheapest escapes: a mini
buck fifty sojourn to the rainforests of Fiji, all
from the convenience of your own cubicle. America is
mad for Fiji water—an emerging victor in the designer
water wars.

According to the Los Angeles-based Fiji Water Company,
their bottled-in-Fiji artesian water is “untouched by
man” (which I would hope is pretty standard for
drinking water) and, due to a high-tech bottling
plant, has never come in contact with 21st-century
air. The hype positions it as the fossil fuel of
waters—one more heirloom fluid to be ravenously
plundered.

On one level it’s refreshing to see people excited
about water. For the most part, each bottle of water
Americans drink represents one less sugar-and
chemical-laden bottle of soda pop consumed. With
sugary soft drinks (liquid candy averaging 11
teaspoons of sugar per 12-ounce bottle) emerging as a
major culprit in our obesity epidemic, our newfound
taste for water is certainly good news.

But there’s a dark side to our new water craze. And in
many ways, Fiji Water optimizes the self-destructive
insanity of consumer culture. The problem is not Fiji
Water per se. The company has built hospitals and
water systems in Fiji, and I’m sure their water is
great. The problem is bottled water in general, and
Fiji Water makes a great case study.

I’m in Western New York State watching people drink
Fiji Water out of little, indestructible plastic tanks
adorned with colorful images of tropical flowers and
waterfalls. But there’s something very wrong here.
Something very unnatural about this natural treat.
Something that threatens the very existence of the
tropical paradise depicted on the bottle. Something
that lays bare the insanity of consumerism.

Here we are sitting on the edge of the Great
Lakes—home to one fifth of the fresh water on the
planet. We’re hours away from pristine Adirondack
mountain aquifers. Yet we buy water that is
transported to northeastern North America from a small
South Pacific atoll whose population suffers from
chronic water shortages. This water is packaged in
plastic bottles made from dwindling oil reserves.
Currently it takes about 63 million gallons of oil per
year to manufacture disposable water bottles for US
consumption.

Fiji Water bottles are made on-site in Fiji from
polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The manufacturing
process is energy-intensive and produces toxic
byproducts. The plant that makes the bottles is one
part of Fiji you’ll never see pictured on a Fiji Water
bottle. When we’re done drinking our water, over 85
percent of these bottles wind up in landfills (where
they take up to 1,000 years to degrade) and
incinerators—the latter of which can release a
potpourri of deadly toxics into the environment.
Recycling plastic bottles is still often
cost-prohibitive.

Bringing these bottles of water here from the other
side of the earth involves packing them into cardboard
boxes. In the South Pacific this often means
rainforest cardboard. The boxes of bottles are then
trucked from the bottling plant to a sea cargo
terminal in Fiji, then shipped across the ocean on
fossil-fuel-powered freighters to the US Pacific
coast. There they’re loaded onto trains and trucks,
all powered by fossil fuels, and eventually
warehoused, prodded with forklifts, loaded onto other
trucks, shipped to other warehouses and eventually
delivered to your local convenience store or drink
machine. Environmental impact-wise, you might as well
be swigging down a pint of oil.

We’re being sold a fantasy. A moment in Fiji. A taste
of Fiji. And I’m sure someone out there will tell me
there’s no other water like it, or Perrier, or Poland
Springs, on the planet. But the insane reality is
we’re shipping water across an ocean and continent, to
a region that already has the world’s most abundant
reserves of some of the best water on the planet—water
that is also shipped around the world to other water
snobs who will argue it’s all worthwhile since there’s
no other water quite like New York’s Adirondack spring
water. This behavior is killing the planet. And the
places our designer water comes from, such as Fiji and
the mountains of New York and Maine, are among the
most vulnerable environments susceptible to the
ravages of global warming.

Years ago I clipped a small newspaper story and stuck
it to the wall of my office. It was a
three-column-inch report of a northbound train hauling
municipal waste crashing into a southbound train
hauling, yes, municipal waste. The story was just a
simple narrative. One train was on the wrong tack. A
mistake was made. Never addressed was the obvious
question: Why are we moving identical trains of
garbage in opposite directions for a zero sum gain?

I guess this is the magic of the free market. Trains
full of garbage or water passing in the night. The
problem is that this madness is no longer sustainable.
It never was. The Fiji Water Company suggests that we
drink 16 glasses a day of water—all from Fiji. That’s
three to 11 bottles depending on size. From a
planetary perspective, this is suicidal.

If you like water, and you don’t like tap water, then
buy a water filter and refill your colorful Fiji
bottles over and over. You can still imagine you’re in
Fiji. They’re your daydreams to do with as you wish.
Perhaps you can even dream of a healthy world.


Michael I. Niman’s previous columns are archived at
www.mediastudy.com and available at www.artvoice.com.

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