It's been said that the sale of bottled water is the greatest scam ever perpetrated on American consumers. At least one Arkansas mayor is in general agreement.
Last week, Mayor Dan Coody of Fayetteville urged residents to forgo bottled water and drink tap water instead. He also said that city government itself would stop all purchases of bottled water, although he admitted that was a small amount anyway — in parks, for aldermen at city council meetings, and so on — and subsidiary to the main point, which is to stop the larger waste of money on bottled water when cheaper, better, cleaner water is available from the tap, and to reduce the pollution from discarded water bottles.
Just back from a mayors conference on water held in New York, Coody said that Fayetteville tap water costs a third of a penny per gallon. He compared that with a brand of bottled water sold in supermarkets that costs $1.30 plus tax for 23 ounces. People who complain about $4-a-gallon gasoline are paying $8 a gallon for drinking water, Coody said. And, he said, public water supplies, including Fayetteville's, must meet far more stringent water-purity requirements than do the private sellers of bottled water.
(Central Arkansas Water, which serves Little Rock and other cities in the area, and the state Health Department conduct 155,000 tests a year on CAW tap water, or about 425 tests a day.)
Speaking of expensive oil, Coody said oil was used both to make plastic bottles and to transport bottled water across the country. En-vironmentalists say that most empty bottles — for water and other beverages — are not recycled but simply thrown away, along high-ways, in lakes and rivers, and on other public and private property. According to the Sierra Club, this year Americans will throw away 30 million water bottles every day; only 13 percent of water bottles will be reused or recycled.
Coody would like to meet the disposal problem with a state bottle bill. Under such legislation, a consumer who buys a six-pack of water or other beverage puts up a deposit — usually, a nickel a bottle. The consumer gets his deposit back when he returns the bottles to the seller for recycling. If he doesn't want to bother with returning the bottles, others are likely to collect them for the deposit money — kids and homeless people.
A bottle bill was introduced in the Arkansas legislature a few years back. Coody had high hopes, but bottlers crushed the bill, he said. “They don't want to have to fool with it,” Coody said. “They just want to sell as much bottled water as they can.” Grocers also objected, saying they didn't have places to store the returned bottles, and that empty soft-drink bottles draw flies.
“But 11 other states have done it, and if they can solve the problems, so can we,” Coody said. He said he knew of no plans for the introduc-tion of another bottle bill. Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said he liked the idea of a bottle bill, but agreed with Coody that the subject should be addressed by the legislature, not by an individual city.
The states that have enacted container-deposit laws are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont.
The sale of bottled water continues to grow rapidly, as it has for years, but a national movement to ban or limit sales is now under way.