Unless you’ve been hibernating under your favorite rock, you’ll know the New York/New Jersey area—where our entire edit and art team resides—was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Sandy. I count myself among the extremely lucky. While many in my immediate neighborhood experienced catastrophic flooding and lost power for nearly two weeks, my home suffered little more than a 36-hour blackout (I was stranded in Chicago, as all New York-area airports were closed, so I ended up missing the whole thing). I was struck by the image of relief volunteers all over town lending a helping hand to those who needed it most. But you want to know what was almost as striking? The pallet loads of bottled water being distributed to those without potable running water. My parents and grandmother, who live about an hour away from me near the Jersey Shore, informed me they were living on—not to mention bathing in—bottled water for a good 11 or 12 days after the media-dubbed “Superstorm.”
Why do I bring this up? Think about it. If the anti-bottled-water movement got its ultimate wish, the relief effort would be much more challenging, if not virtually impossible. The Red Cross and local volunteers may not have been able to do much for the power and heat situation, but they had the tools to tackle the water issue pretty quickly, with millions of bottles at the ready from the industry’s top producers. Now imagine a world without bottled water and the impact it would have on the victims of the storm. I’d rather not think about.
Look, I know what some people are thinking. Here’s a shameless PR statement from just another shill for the industry. But guess what. I’m a passionate environmentalist. The fact that we had such a storm is directly related to climate change, which many, for the sake of blind ideological purity, continue to deny. In my mind climate change, global warming, whatever you want to call it, is an undisputable fact. When you try to challenge science with spin, science will always win.
But my argument for bottled water has been one of convenience and, as Sandy has proved, sometimes of necessity. I have a Brita filter at home. I love my Brita filter. But when I’m not home I really don’t want to carry a thermos—the contents of which would be depleted pretty quickly, leaving me to find an acceptable water source with which to refill it. Anyone who’s ever used an airport water fountain or public restroom sink knows that’s not an easy thing to do. That’s when I’m buying bottled water. A lot of it.
I strongly believe that we need to reduce the amount of petroleum-based material in our bottles. I long for the day—hopefully just a few years down the road—when plant-based packaging becomes a mainstream, commercially viable option. But in the interim, bottled water companies have been among the first to innovate with lightweighting. More can be done, but it should tide us all over until bio-alternatives are the norm.
So when a storm, earthquake, mudslide, tornado or any natural or man-made disaster strikes, those advocating against bottled water must ask themselves this: What good is your Brita, now?