The Washington Post goes above the fold on page one with about as good a slap-down of the bottled-water industry as you’ll ever read. We realize Bottled Water Is Bad has fast become conventional wisdom, but this is a great read:

The supply of clean drinking water across America and in many other countries is an underappreciated scientific and technological achievement that in many ways rivals putting a man on the moon. Trillions of dollars have been spent to get clean drinking water to people at virtually no cost—and it is people in precisely these countries who seem willing to pay premiums of 1,000 percent to 10,000 percent for bottled water.

As the wealthiest billion people on the planet increasingly turn to bottled water, moreover, the poorest billion have no little or access to clean water.

On its face, the bottled-water trade makes selling snow to Eskimos sound like a reasonable business proposition: Tons of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere each year to produce and transport a product thousands of miles from Place A to Place B, when an identical product is already available in Place B in a form that is typically much cheaper, rigorously tested and sometimes safer. And afterward, millions of plastic bottles end up in landfills.

The Post points out that think what you will, taste tests have shown you can’t tell the difference between bottled water (much of which is just tap water anyway) and water fresh from the spout. We’d say we feel for the suckers who pay $33.50 for two ounces of “concentrated water” from Hawaii, but that would be a lie.


Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.