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Bottled Water and the Overflowing Nanny State

Issue Analysis


Bottled Water and the Overflowing Nanny State

How Misinformation Erodes Consumer Freedom

Full study available in PDF

For the past couple decades, bottled water had been growing inpopularity as an environmentally preferred choice and as a healthybeverage alternative. Yet in recent years, environmental activists havebegun attacking its value and quality. The activists’ claims do nothold water, yet, based on those claims, they are promoting bans, taxes,and regulations on bottled water—taking the Nanny State to a whole newlevel. The following analysis counters this “new wisdom,” questioningthe justifications for this new assault on consumer freedom.

Some key facts include: Bottled water regulation is at least as stringent as tap waterregulation. Under federal law the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)must pass bottled water regulations that are “no less stringent” thanEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. The law does notallow the FDA to set standards that produce a lower quality product. As a result, FDA regulations mirror EPA regulations very closely and are more stringent in some respects because FDA applies additional food, packaging, and labeling regulations.

Bottledwater is substantially different from tap. About 75 percent of bottledwater is from sources other than municipal systems such as springs orunderground sources. Much of the bottled municipal water undergoesadditional purification treatments to produce a higher quality productthat must meet FDA bottled water qualitystandards, packaging, and labeling mandates. In terms of safety, tapwater has more documented health-related case reports compared tobottled water. The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionrecommends bottled water for individuals with compromised immunesystems to reduce the risks associated with tap water.

Bottledwater containers are a tiny fraction of the solid waste stream. Manypeople have turned to bottled water to replace other portable drinkscontaining sugar and calories, producing little increase in totalwaste. In any case, single-serving plastic water bottles amount to just0.3 percent of the nation’s solid waste. Bottles used in water coolersare recycled at high rates and have even less impact on landfill waste.Taxing and banning either type of container will not matter much interms of overall waste.

Plastic bottles are safe forconsumers. The chemicals which environmental activists suggest are aproblem are not even used in the PET plasticused for single-serving water bottles. Bisphenol A, a chemical found inlarge five-gallon water cooler jugs and other food containers exists atsuch low trace levels that there have been no reported health problemsand the FDA, along with several scientific organizations around the world, have not found any problem with this substance.

Thepublic has freely turned to bottled water as an alternative to drinkswith calories, for convenience, freshness, and whatever other reasonsthey themselves find worthy. Misinformation spread by activists shouldnot determine who can access this product. People who do not like theproduct can make their own choices. They should not have any right tomake them for the rest of us.