Europeans were long known for drinking bottled water “because tap water wasn’t safe,” letting Americans feel smug because we had all happily guzzled ours from the taps for decades without a thought–and without health problems. Then somebody thought to make bottled water a snob-intellectual-social superiority item and got rich selling it in the U.S. Botttled water vending machines appeared next to coke manchines and super markets stocked the stuff. You can fool all of the people, some of the time. Or nearly.
Then something happened. An American tourist in Italy noticed a waiter in a restaurant filing empty water bottles from the tap. Somebody noticed the large numbers of Americans who didn’t drink the bottled stuff (ignorant louts) but somehow survived and even raised healthy kids. Bottled water sales leveled out. Addicts defended their habit from friends with knowledge of chemistry by claiming it tastes better. The chemists just laughed and turned the tap. Taste non est disputandum, right?
The water bottles clogged the landfills for future archaelogists to find (they’re immortal); that was hard for green snobs to justify and some of the elite began to give up their habit. Now, we know the bottled water war is lost: “Ivy Colleges Shun Bottled Water” just came from Bloomberg News (3/11/2012), reporting that Harvard, Brown and some 88 other colleges are banning or restricting sales of bottled water on their campuses. Instead, they recommend using refillable stainless steel bottles; they’re providing “hydration stations” around campus to refill them with filtered water. The water bottlers are beside themselves though the rumor they’re researching methods for selling scented air are probably exaggerated. Anyway, that’s been a normal municipal service in L.A. for ages.
A Dartmough environmental studies major was quoted:”The product just doesn’t make common sense…companies are taking something that is freely accessible to everyone on the Dartmouth campus, packaging it in a non-reusable container and selling it under the pretense that it is somehow better than tap water.”
You can’t fool all of the people, all of the time. But for a half-century or so, you can make a lot of money before anyone much notices…and I’ll bet that somehow, “hydration stations” cost a lot more than drinking fountains…