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Bottled Water Sales Take a Dive

Posted by drinkwaterforlife on April 18, 2009 at 11:57 PM

NPR Story: Bottled Water Sales Flatten During Recession


Morning Edition, April 15, 2009 · After years of double-digit increases, bottled water sales have stopped rising. Industry analysts say the economy is driving the change, but they also say environmentalists may be having an effect.

Decades ago, when people were thirsty, they looked for a water fountain or turned on the tap.

Caitlin Corner-Dolloff of the group Corporate Accountability International is running a taste test at the University of Hartford to convince students that there's not much difference between bottled water and tap water.

Bottled Water Critics

Criticism of bottled water was first sparked a couple of years ago when concern about dependence on fossil fuels coincided with a rise in bottled water consumption.  Environmentalists have been calling for people to give up the bottle ever since, and for states to increase recycling. Now the entire bottled water market is down 1 percent.

"Anecdotally, we believe that consumers last year increasingly drank more tap water," says Gary Hemphill, who tracks sales for the Beverage Marketing Corporation.He says the sale of most nonalcoholic beverages fell last year because of the economy.  But he says that with water, there may be another issue: "The secondary reason — perhaps a little bit more difficult to measure, but nonetheless probably a factor — are environmental questions."

Bottles Under Fire

Attack on the bottle isn't only coming from environmentalists. Bottled water competitors, like Brita, which sells water filters, launched an ad campaign knocking the bottle.  NPR aired one this month: The ad says "Brita — providing water filtration solutions to help reduce bottled water waste."

But bottled water is still selling. Americans spent more than $11 billion on it last year. Kim Jeffrey, CEO of Nestle Waters North America, which owns Poland Spring and other brands, says that if environmental concerns are influencing sales, they're not having much of an impact.

"The problems we're seeing right now are very much attributable to the economic downturn, not to the fact that people are leaving bottled water in droves — because it's just not happening," he says.

The Plastic Tally

At Geissler's Supermarket in East Windsor, Conn., some people are buying two cases, or 48 bottles, a week. Other customers are cutting back. "I used to buy a case once in a while, but I don't anymore," says Linda Lamarre, a special education consultant who's now down to a couple of bottles a week. She says she's watching her pennies.  Lenny Whitten, a plumber, used to buy a case a week, but now fills the same bottle with tap water over and over. He says he does it because he doesn't want to fill up landfills with plastic that doesn't decompose.

Jeffrey of Nestle Waters says his company is trying to use less plastic resin. A one-half liter of Poland Spring used to be made from 14 1/2 grams.  "Today it's less than 12 1/2 grams," he says. "That move down saved us about 65 million pounds of resin a year and had about a 10 percent reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. But the fact that the bottle's still there suggests we have more work to do, and that's in the area of recycling." Jeffrey says there should be curbside recycling for everyone. But bottled water critics still want fewer bottles.

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Reply Raphael
6:37 PM on May 1, 2009 
Having had worked for an organization where I was able to visit a lot of filtration plants throughout the city I live in - and learning of the process of those plants' filtering systems - the choice to give up bottled water indefinitely was an easy one. Look at what Orange County (Los Angeles) began doing in 2002. I am willing to bet hardly anyone knows about that year, and how drinking water was integrated by means too scientific to go into here. I wish I could give the 20 gallons of water I waste every day to someone across the globe that dreams of 2 (ounces).
Reply susan
11:26 PM on May 2, 2009