Tag Archives: peter gleick

Water Expert Peter Gleick Calls Out IBWA for Misleading Statistics

Peter Gleick is an expert on water issues, and in his San Francisco Chronicle blog, he offers reasoned, intelligent, adult commentary about things like water rights, water conservation, and yes, the bottled water industry.

In this case, he takes aim at tactics of the IBWA (the bottled water industry trade association) for creating and publicizing irrelevant statistics:

In recent years, there has been growing public opposition to the construction of large spring water bottling plants in small rural communities in Maine, Michigan, California, Colorado and elsewhere because of fear, and some direct physical evidence, that such large plants adversely affect local groundwater levels, flowing springs and local wetlands.

In response, the bottled water industry, led by the International Bottled Water Association, launched a campaign (including testimony to state and federal legislators) arguing that there was no problem because “ground water withdrawals for bottled water production represent only 0.019 percent of the total fresh ground water withdrawals in the U.S.”

Ah, here rears the ugly head of the denominator problem. This number is probably very close to true. It is also completely irrelevant and misleading.

The proper denominator should not be total U.S. groundwater withdrawals, it should be some measure of local groundwater availability, or use, or yield — a much smaller denominator. In this case, a bottled water withdrawal may be a very significant fraction of local groundwater. But by choosing a big denominator, the industry was attempting to disguise a problem.

You can read the entirety of Peter Gleick’s post here: Peter Gleick: The Denominator Problem; Misleading Use of Water Numbers | Circle of Blue | WaterNews.

Frankly, we’re not surprised that the IBWA would rely on misinformation; despite the industry’s warm, fuzzy exterior, we’ve seen several instances where the association has attacked the quality of tap water – the classic attempt to create doubt about what comes out your tap.

It’s largely rubbish, but it’s par for the course for the IBWA – an employee of which was called out on this blog for posting industry talking points on the Huffington Post without identifying himself as an industry schill.

That was former Tobacco Institute spokesperson Tom Lauria (who pops up in the comments section below the post and levels on amusing charge after another), and if you wonder why the IBWA hired Mr. Lauria, it’s because – with their bottom line under attack by the recession and the bottled water backlash – creating doubt about the quality of tap water remains their only hope of sustaining an unsustainable, largely pointless product.

Need we point out that Nestle Waters of North America – the leading water bottler worldwide – is the big dog in the IBWA? And that Nestle CEO Kim Jeffries has been quoted as saying that municipal water supplies “go down a lot”?

Peer-Reviewed Analysis Exposes Folly of Bottled Water: The “Energy Implications of Bottled Water”

Given the energy needed to pump, bottle (including fabricating the bottles), transport and sell bottled water, we’re not particularly surprised to hear that bottled water – in addition to be more expensive than gasoline – is also up to 2000 times more energy intensive than tap water.

The Pacific Institute "Energy Implications of Bottled Water"
The Pacific Institute "Energy Implications of Bottled Water"

Pacific Institute: Taking a Toll

The article, “Energy implications of bottled water” by researchers Peter H. Gleick and Heather Cooley, is the first peer-reviewed analysis of its kind. Gleick and Cooley find bottled water is up to 2000 times more energy-intensive than tap water. Similarly, bottled water that requires long-distance transport is far more energy-intensive than bottled water produced and distributed locally.

Published by the highly regarded Peter H. Gleick and Heather S. Cooley, the report (available here in .pdf format) offers this abstract:

As bottled water use continues to expand around the world, there is growing interest in the environmental, economical, and social implications of that use, including concerns about waste generation, proper use of groundwater, hydrologic effects on local surface and groundwater, economic costs, and more.

A key concern is how much energy is required to produce and use bottled water. This paper estimates the energy footprint required for various phases of bottled
water production, transportation, and use. We do not develop a single comprehensive life-cycle energy estimate because of differences among water sources, bottling processes, transportation costs, and other factors, but we quantify key energy inputs necessary for site-specific assessments.

We also apply these inputs to three site-specific examples of the energy required from production to the point of use: local bottled water produced and used in Los Angeles, water bottled in the South Pacific and shipped by cargo ship to Los Angeles, and water bottled in France and shipped in various ways to Los Angeles. For water transported short distances, the energy requirements of bottled water are dominated by the energy used to produce the plastic bottles. Long-distance transport, however, can lead to energy costs comparable to, or even larger than, those of producing the bottle.

All other energy costs—for processing, bottling, sealing, labeling, and refrigeration—are far smaller than those for the production of the bottle and transportation. These data can be used to generate specific estimates for different sources, treatments, and delivery options.

As recognition of bottled water’s less savory impacts grows, it’s likely the downturn in the industry will continue past the end of this recession, forcing small communities to ask themselves this question: What will happen to the jobs promised by Nestle when the industry continues to decline?

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