Is Bottled Water a Breakable Habit?

Mr. T in DC (cc)

Today, about half of all Americans drink bottled water. That number is steadily rising, and so are the environmental and social impacts. According to a recent article in the Miami Herald:

Americans spent $10.6 billion on bottled water in 2009 — a phenomenal outlay for something that is freely available. The energy used to produce and transport plastic water bottles in 2007 would fuel 1.5 million cars for a year. And about 75 percent of empty plastic water bottles end up in landfills, lakes, streams and oceans.

What’s worse, studies have proven that bottled water isn’t necessarily any safer or cleaner than tap. So how can we stop this destructive and wasteful habit? In a study published this month in Social Marketing Quarterly, authors Cecilia O’Donnell of San Jose State University and Ronald E. Rice of UC Santa Barbara explored bottled-water usage on college campuses, arguing that “[u]nderstanding why people engage in the unnecessary and wasteful behavior of drinking bottled water is the first step to stopping it”:

Survey results show that those who drank more bottled water included non-Whites, those who trusted traditional organizations more and environmental organizations and scientists less, those who read the campus newspaper, and those who valued water safety, taste, and convenience more. Significant bivariate influences on more frequent bottled water drinking that did not persist in the hierarchical regression included conservatism, religiosity, Christian religion, nonindividualism, less interpersonal communication about environmental issues, less civic involvement, younger age, and fewer environmental behaviors. Groups working to reduce bottled water consumption on campuses should provide access to filtered water and emphasize the connection between bottled water and environmental issues, rather than health issues.

Click here to read the complete article, “A Communication Approach to Campus Bottled Water Campaigns,” in Social Marketing Quarterly.

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Lucy Berbeo, Contributor, Management INK

Thanks for sharing these additional resources, Margie! This project is right up social marketers’ alley, as they aim to change the behavior of individuals for society’s greater good. Educating the public is crucial, as is encouraging individual action. As the SMQ article concludes, if we can learn to stop littering, we can surely learn to step away from the plastic bottles.

We’ll be covering more sustainability-related topics in the coming weeks, and would definitely welcome your insights!

Margie Jansen

Thanks for a great article. Have you come across ‘The Story of Bottled Water’? I’ve also been doing a little investigation into the chemical compounds in plastic that mimic oestrogen, and that are potentially carcinogenic – especially when bottles with liquid in them are heated.

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