Bottled Water Wars

By Patrick Appel

The Economist reviews Elizabeth Royte’s book Bottlemania:

It should be easy enough to pillory bottled water. It costs between 250 and 10,000 times more than tap water and in blind tastings people cannot usually separate the fancy beverage from the ordinary stuff. Then there is the environmental cost: according to one estimate, the total energy required to make and deliver each bottle of water is equivalent to filling them a quarter of the way with oil. While New Yorkers enjoy the services of water sommeliers, millions of people in developing countries lack access to any clean water at all.

But although Ms Royte displays all the usual prejudicesprivate enterprise bad, collective provision goodher book concludes that even in rich countries tap water sometimes contains small quantities of harmful chemicals. She also points out that in water shortages, local authorities may supply people with water reclaimed from sewage without telling them. Bottled water, therefore, “has its place”: a confused message, if an honest one.