• Adam Tabriz, MD

Should Governments Ban Bottled Water?

Initially published by Illumination Curated on Medium


Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Among many controversial issues, here comes the one hardly thought about by many. Once I heard it, I was not stunned because I have listened to arguments like governments should tax meat and drinking water.

Pollution instigated by the undiscerning throwing away of plastic bottles is a big problem. It is hardly biodegradable and causes many diseases. Amongst many uses, plastic is the fundamental component of bottled water today. Most of us use bottled water to avoid unhealthy side effects of tap water, anything from poorly treated recycled water to the high percentage of unwanted minerals.

In 2019 alone, Americans consumed 14.4 billion gallons of bottled water. That was up 3.6% from the year before in 2018. Such a trend has been a steady climb since 2010.

In 2016, the bottled water sale outperformed soda for the first time and has continued in the same direction in the United States until now. 2020 revenue for bottled water was $61.326 million by June 15, and the overall market is expected to grow to $505.19 billion by 2028.

We can all agree plastics, if not recycled, can have negative consequences in nature. But is banning the answer?

The opponents of the idea argue that banning bottled water will shift the water drinkers to consume plastic bottled sugary drinks, which I think is also deceitful.

There is always a reason why the public uses plastic bottles in the first place. Most of us old enough can recall no plastic decanters until 1968 when the petrochemical industry introduced plastic bottles to the market. I clearly remember the days we had to return the empty glass Coca-Cola bottles in exchange for the entire stack. So how come we are having a problem returning to those eras.

With the marginal exception of bioplastics, plastic is part of the petrochemical industry produced from oil, refined into naphtha or natural gas. In 2016, the petrochemical industry used 17.4 million barrels of oil daily, just under 20% of global oil consumption.

Historically, the major producers have been oil groups (Shell, Aramco, etc.) and chemical companies that often separated their heavy and delicate chemicals businesses. Therefore, it is a very capital-intensive business.

Plastic means lighter, easier, and cheaper to produce. Glass containers lost their clarity and were less attractive. Probably recycling them at their elemental level (meaning by smelting and refining) may have been a costly task for corporations that mean business.

So, irrespective of the environmental consequences, plastic bottles were more profitable to the industry, as they hardly ever had to worry about committing themselves to recycling the glass bottles.

Comparatively, the plastic industry is still young. Nevertheless, it has occupied a central role in our daily lives. It has been rooted as an essential commodity and used for highly sophisticated applications. Awareness of such a bitter fact is still limited, given the scope of the problem. Unlike paper and glass, plastic suffers from its flexibility and lightness.

All said and done with, the bottled water problem is just another dictatory administrative intervention that treats all citizens as irresponsible children when all they have to do is create better, competitive, and educated options. The option is not necessarily corporate fiscal strategy-driven but rather driven through public incentives and rewards.

For instance, public incentives drive competitive biodegradable ideas to resurface without being suppressed and sidelined by the large oil companies with billions of dollars of financial incentive to keep the plastic industry alive.

There are millions of solutions to the plastic problem, but they are hardly incentivized and let to resurface to their full delivery.

The bottled water problem is not about the plastic per se, but the oppressive corporate monopoly and their unilateral influence that makes innovative solutions emerge.

Banning bottled water is nothing but another prohibition, and prohibition is never the answer.
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