Book review: Bottlemaina by Elizabeth Royte

This week’s book review is a book I casually found on the shelves of my library, in a section I was looking for something else.  Bottlemania by Elizbeth Royte looks at the politics of water – both bottled, and tap water.  It’s a great, easy to read non fiction book. It was published in 2008, so it’s a little out of date now, and I wish there was an edit with how some things have gone since then.

I want to share with you some great stats:

  • In 2006, in the US, each person on average used 686 single serve beverage bottles. In 1960-70s, that number was closer to 200-250 per annum, and largely beer and soft drink.
  • The 8 glasses of water a day is a fallacy – not that water isn’t good for you, but the body reaches homeostasis, and anything additional will just be ‘waste’.
  • The EPA predicted that by 2013, 36 US states would be suffering drinking water shortages (for tap water). I’d love to know how this 2008 prediction has turned out.
  • In the US, NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Oregon are the only cities where they are not required to filter their tap water. (Interestingly, all cities I want to visit).
  • The company that owns Clorox (a bleach brand) also own Brita filters – which, filter out chlorine. How’s that for market capitalisation!
  • Compostable corn based plastics are only compostable in commerical compost heaps – backyard compost heaps are unlikely to ever get hot enough. And it doesn’t mis well with regular recycling either. That’s of course, without considering the amount of herbicides and fertilizer it takes to grow the corn. What would your thoughts on this, Polythene Pam

Overall, the author can’t help but prefer tap water while admitting it’s fair from ideal either. The costs and effort that go into making water drinkable are extensive. The EPA regulates a number of contaminants, but there’s as many again that it does not test for, or regulate (like residues of drugs!). There’s far less restrictions on the quality of bottled water.  Not even filters like Brita can remove many of the concerning compounds found in water – both tap and bottled.

It was an eye opening ‘story’ of drinking water, and I’m glad I picked it up. I can’t tell you how it ends, as I do have two chapters to go.  What are you thoughts?  Are single use bottles worth it for the convenience combined with BPA leaching?  Or would you rather tap water – treated with all sorts of chemicals to counteract the aging lead pipes, and the leftover pharmaceuticals and perchlorates?  It’s really not as simple as I thought it might have been

12 thoughts on “Book review: Bottlemaina by Elizabeth Royte

  1. I like to think we have “good” tap water from our municipal source. Although it is treated and imperfect, I feel lucky to come from a country with such abundant fresh water.

  2. I’ve lived overseas somewhere where you couldn’t drink the water, and it definitely makes you think about your water consumption. On the one hand I’m grateful that we have such good water in Australia, but on the other hand, we flush that good quality water down the toilet! Where I do fieldwork we have three taps – one for drinking water (from the tank), and then one hot and one cold tap from the bore water.

    I compromise by using a jug with a filter and a water bottle with a filter – that’s interesting that those filters don’t get rid of everything, but it’s a start at least and it makes the water taste a lot better!

    • I don’t notice taste much so long as it’s refrigerated. But I do bemoan buying litre bottles of water to brush my teeth with when traveling. I think tap water’s costs are so hidden it’s hard to compare though. It’s likely to continue to be a talked about commodity as time goes on, even without droughts, the demand remains high. Sorry such a disjointed collection of thoughts

  3. I’ve watched the documentary “Tapped” and they talked about the same things.and in the book Plastic Free!

    My dad actually sued the town he lived in because of the high levels of Chlorine in the towns water and actually won.

    After reading Plastic Free and seeing the movie Tapped, we gave up our one use plastic bottled water. In the movie Tapped, a town in Georgia had run out of water and put water restrictions on the town, but Coca Cola and Pepsi still pumped out water. Same thing happened in Vermont.

    I have a Brita Pitcher to filer my water both at home and work but I recently purchased a Klean Kanteen to drink my coffee out of and water.

    When I was a little girl, we had a spring that was a 20 minute walk from my home and a 5 minute drive. People would drive to get this water from all over town. Do you know that when they started bottling water, the town blocked off the spring water…my husband and I drove by there not to long ago and I was telling him how one day my cousin and I were skipping school playing in the water there when we got caught…lol.

    One thing that really gets me about the whole bottled water thing is that the regulations on municipal tap water is strictly regulated and bottled water companies are self regulated. Now, something I’m paying a lot of money for sure really be highly regulated because if you have a water bill (mine is included in my condo fee), you would have to realize the mark up on your bottled water. Then when you think of the chemical leaching that goes on…because lets remember, they bottle your water in a plant or to a truck that then takes it to a plant to be bottled, then it goes on another truck, to a warehouse, then from the warehouse to the store or gas station. Now, this water has been in the hot trailer, a warehouse, a hot trailer, to a store…then often put on display at local gas stations and stores where the leaching process begins.

    Then, you/we purchase the bottled water, soda, juice….and we really don’t know where it came from, how far it traveled or how many times it’s been cooled and heated repeatedly.

    So, now that I’ve stolen your book review…sorry…and gave you something to really think about besides the book….

    • Wow, I can’t believe your dad won, good work! Gosh imagine the precedent that could have started?

      I still buy water when it’s the only option. I don’t always have a bottle with me to refill etc. And I now have my own stainless steel bottle, but it’s not my shadow!

      It interesting to know more about towns that you know of running out of water, I had no idea that happened, largely due to water companies pumping water.

      I totally agree – tap water is SO regulated, but bottled water largely flies under the radar. No one wants to know if and how much BPA is leeching into the water – it’d all just be ‘too hard’ to deal with. Thanks for stealing my book review – I see my blog as a place for discussion rather than a place for simple two word comments like ‘nice work’. I love that you take the time to think and respond, and add more to conversation, so never feel sorry!

  4. How interesting – I’d love to read that.

    As a teenager we lived on a farm in Tasmania: all our water was from a local spring, neither bottled or town-treated.

    Ironically, in Year 11 Biology we tested a number of water samples from the class for various contaminants. Ours had dangerously high bacteria levels (presuambly from animal and human waste run-off along the water course.) So much for our pure water! (I do credit my iron-stomach to this background, though!)

    • Wow what a great way to ‘grow’ up. Yeah human and animal waste is a bit of a worry, which explains a lot of the treatments they put in ‘tap’ water. I claim ‘iron stomach’ from boarding school, but I’m losing my ability!

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