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Paperback Bottlemania: Big Business, Local Springs, and the Battle Over America's Drinking Water Book

ISBN: 159691372X

ISBN13: 9781596913721

Bottlemania: Big Business, Local Springs, and the Battle Over America's Drinking Water

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Book Overview

Second only to soda, bottled water is on the verge of becoming the most popular beverage in the country. The brands have become so ubiquitous that we're hardly conscious that Poland Spring and Evian were once real springs, bubbling in remote corners of Maine and France. Only now, with the water industry trading in the billions of dollars, have we begun to question what it is we're drinking. In this intelligent, accomplished work of narrative journalism,...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A lively consumer's examination will appeal to a range of water-users

BOTTLEMANIA: HOW WATER WENT ON SALE AND WHY WE BOUGHT IT proves an entertaining expose of the lengths corporations have taken to commercialize water, and the social and environmental costs of quenching human thirst. The industry of bottled water is a huge billion dollar business in the U.S. - yet only recently are consumers questioning bottle water contents and perceptions. A lively consumer's examination will appeal to a range of water-users and to any general lending library.

Getting at the true cost of bottled water

"Bottlemania" is a continuation of the dialog started by Royte in her book "Garbage Land" in 2006, this time looking more specifically at the bottled water business that has sprung up in the past decade. Royte takes a multi-disciplinary approach to analyzing the industry looking at the science, the marketing, the commerce, and the politics of selling water and the results are disturbing to say the least. Royte's prose is always engaging and entertaining as she investigates the industry with a reformer's zeal and she asks hard questions that consumers should be asking themselves: in a time when we have perhaps the cleanest tap water why do we spend billions on bottled water, what is the true cost of this industry, how do the practices of the industry harm communities and consumers, and perhaps the most fundamental question of all, is bottled water really all that good for us? Royte casts a wide net, looking at the adverse environmental and economic impact bottlers have to local water sources, concerns over BPA in plastic bottles, the lack of recycling for those plastic bottles (a theme explored in "Garbage Land" as well), the heavy carbon footprint for transporting water to consumers, comparisons of tap water and bottled water, and how the water companies subtly play on consumers fears through their marketing. In the end "Bottlemania" is a call to invest in our failing water infrastructure to ensure continued water safety and to avoid the potential for water scarcity. Many of the best water systems waste a considerable amount of treated potable water through leakage before it even reaches consumers homes; something that will be unthinkable in a time of water shortages. And while we've treated tap water as a cheap commodity not worth worrying over bottled water has instead become a fetish, something essential yet also something that makes a statement about the individual. We chuckle at comics satirizing people who pay more for bottled water than they pay for gasoline or milk and yet our favored "fashion accessory" is that same bottle of water. Hopefully "Bottlemania" will make readers think twice about the high price we truly pay.

Don't be put off by the apparently trivial title

The title is cute and catchy and implies the book is a lightweight screed about the erstwhile evils of drinking bottled water. Yes, the initial starting point for Ms. Royte's inquiry was asking some simple questions about the impacts and equities of a corporation bottling huge quantities of Maine springwater. But this is an important environmental book, in the same league as "An Inconvenient Truth". This is because Ms. Royte's simple questions about bottled water lead her and us on an exploration of a whole hidden world of our water and sanitation resources and infrastructure that lies behind our taps. How does bottled springwater differ from tap water in terms of harmful biological and chemical contaminants? How did the fad of chugging water out of throwaway plastic bottles catch on? Where does our tap water come from? How is it treated? Is that necessarily good for us? What is happening to the watersheds that all of us depend on? How can they be protected? How are water and sanitation systems interrelated? Are these groundwater and freshwater issues affected by other environmental trends, like global warming? And so on. Like Ms. Royte, you will probably come to the end of this brisk, readable work knowing a lot more about your own water and sanitation then you did when you began and have a much better appreciation of the somewhat unsurprising policy conclusions she reaches: that protecting our public drinking water "commons" makes more sense than drinking water bottled at distant plants. Although judging by the cute title and cover art the topic might seem a bit frothy and more of a treatise on marketing and product development, the author's target is much wider. I am an environmental attorney and have handled permitting and litigation involving public water supply and sanitary treatment systems and bottled springwater, and am impressed by how the author is able to get so much technical detail right, while keep it readable and interesting to a lay audience. Ms. Royte has written one of the best general interest books in a long while on an important, probably, THE most important environmental topic (other than climate change/greenhouse gases) of "wat-san" and preserving/expanding our aging public water and sewer infrastructure. In getting to those conclusions by starting her inquiry with questions about commoditized bottled water, the author attempts to be evenhanded and fair in her depiction of the corporate and individual actors without overly indulging in anti-corporate bias. My only minor quibble is the omission of any discussion of state licensing requirements and associated testing and reporting requirements (where it says, e.g., "NYSHD Cert. No. ___" on the label in small type). However, that's just a small omission, although I'm surprised the Nestle people didn't mention that there are state reviews of their in-house analytical and production data, it would seem to make their case stronger that water quality is no

An expose that merits more attention

This is a remarkably interesting read that I am afraid hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. Ever since I read an article on "Fast Company" on the phenomenon of bottled water, I have been intrigued by it. A recent review in "Seed" introduced me to this book. I am glad that I read it. Despite the "funny" review of a top 1000 reviewer (imagine that) that considers this book as propaganda for more regulation, it is quite the opposite. The book comes across as a systematic analysis of how the industry evolved and some on-the-scene reporting of key players like Nestle and Poland Springs. The chapter on the latter, neatly cataloging the unimaginable conflicts of interests and a apparently pliant local public officials, alone is worth the price of the book. It is impossible for a reader not to be shocked at some of the reporting (the author almost always avoids any preachy tone). The contrasts and comparisons drawn between the Freysburg and Kingsfield communities is an interesting read as well. There is another chapter that outlines some actions companies like Coke are taking to evaluate their footprint. Another chapter worth mentioning is "Something to Drink?" - the last chapter which takes a broader viewpoint and ties the topics to global warming and related issues. You will learn fun stats as "a cotton t-shirt is backed by 528.3 gallons of water and a single cup of coffee by 52.8 gallons". Now, the negatives - The book takes a decidely US-centric narration. There is no extensive discussion on similar issues outside of the US (though there is some mention on the Coke debacle in India). The first-account narrative style helps to provide a very down-to-earth method to convey the ideas, but sometimes distracts from highlighting some of the salient points being made. Nevertheless, an informative, entertaining read that will certainly question the utility of an entire industry.

Absolutely the Best Book on Nestle and the Predatory Bottled Water Industry

Elizabeth Royte has written the best book available on the bottled water industry. Focusing on Nestle Waters North America and its Poland Spring operations in Maine, Royte's writing is knowledgeable, even-handed, and hip, and has none of the hyperbolic mewling that many environmentalist writers fall prey to. She provides sweeping and insightful coverage of the history, hydrogeology, chemistry, technology, politics, economics, and social psychology of the commodification of water. Readers will develop a better appreciation of just how unhealthy, environmentally destructive, and frankly crazy it is to buy and drink bottled water. An enlightening joy to read. Thanks, Elizabeth!
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