Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bottled water sales to pass soda sales by 2020

The New York Times has an interesting article this morning about the decline in soda sales and what it means for Coke and Pepsi. The article includes the following fact: "By the end of this decade, if not sooner, sales of bottled water are expected to surpass those of carbonated soft drinks..."
Source: The New York Times

There are many dimensions to this trend. From a public health perspective, the decline in soda sales
have to be viewed as a good thing. Coke and Pepsi have contributed to the high rates of obesity among children and the general population. Water is healthier, and so the switch is a good thing for our health.

But the drop in soda sales need not - and SHOULD NOT - be accompanied by a rise in bottled water sales. Water bottles are wasteful in energy and resources. They fill our landfills and oceans when they are thrown away, and even then only 30% of bottles that are recycled require energy to process. They are expensive. And they are not healthier or safer or cleaner or better regulated that municipal tapwater.

Sales of bottled water should be dropping just as sales of soda is dropping. There are easy alternatives that have none of the drawbacks of plastic. Buy your own refillable bottle and fill it up on-the-go. Use a drinking fountain.

Union College's Ban Bottled Water Subcommittee of U-Sustain is working to eliminate bottles from campus. This is a long-term project that will require education and improvements in our facilities. Acceptance will be much higher when people understand the motivations, and when water fountains and bottle-filling stations are convenient. We host an annual "Water Week" in which these issues are discussed. And we are funding the installation of new water fountains and bottle-filling stations through our Presidential Green Grant program. 2013's Graduation featured water "boxes" that require less energy to produce and are also recyclable.

We are following in the footsteps of the more than 90 colleges and universities that have already banned bottled water. I am confident that Union will join them soon.

And we will help drive sales of bottled water in the same direction as soda sales.

(For more, see Annie Leonard's wonderful "Story of Bottled Water," for a clear presentation on many of these issues.)

(Update 10/28/13)
Looking again at the NYTimes article, including the graphic to the right, I wonder whether the story over-hypes bottled water. Notice that bottled water sales have been pretty flat over the last ~5 years. The anticipated point where bottled water sales pass soft drink sales appears, from the graphic, to be driven by the decline in the Coke etc. rather than a rise in Dasani etc.

That's a good thing. In any case, we still want to reduce them both.

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