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Originally published May 11, 2010 at 3:59 PM | Page modified May 13, 2010 at 11:58 AM

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Corrected version

Guest columnist

Put a cork in bottled water for the environment

Bottled water costs more per gallon than gasoline, writes guest columnist Diana Somerville. People and their governments should curtail the use of bottled water for the environment's sake.

Special to The Times

MORE than a thousand volunteers removed a staggering 24 tons of trash on Washington's Coastal Cleanup Day.

Leading the list of trash cleared away: plastic water bottles — among the most readily recycled plastic products of all. Yet around 90 percent of them end up being carelessly tossed, ending up in our oceans and landfills.

Water, of course, is a zero-calorie alternative to chemical-and-sugar-laced sodas. But our continuing infatuation with the bottled stuff is threatening our planet. It's also draining our pockets. Bottled water costs more per gallon than gasoline and 7,000 times more than what flows from your kitchen faucet.

Producing plastic water bottles requires three times the water the bottle will eventually hold. Then there's the 17 million barrels of oil and the 2.5 million tons of CO2 released during plastic bottle production.

In the U.S. — the world's leading bottled-water consumer — an average person uses 166 plastic water bottles each year.

Why?

It's not about quality: Some 40 percent of bottled water is simply purified tap water. The country's biggest seller, Aquafina, is water from reservoirs supplying Detroit and Dubuque, bottled by Pepsi. Second-ranking Dasani, Coke's offering, uses municipal water from places like Queens, N.Y.

Bottled water has morphed into a $15 billion-a-year industry because big bottling companies have spent countless millions convincing us that our tap water — held to federal and state standards — is unhealthy.

Labels with glamorous, exotic-sounding names are marketing malarkey.

Yosemite Water comes from L.A.'s Highland Park, where there's a street named Yosemite. p>

As humorists point out, Evian is naive spelled backward. But the consequences aren't funny.

The Great Lakes are being drained and many of the nation's municipal water supplies are threatened by the water bottlers' unquenchable thirst.

Images of free-flowing waterfalls and pristine springs greenwash some often overlooked issues created by water bottling.

Fiji Water has become America's favorite imported brand, despite being shipped halfway around the world and selling for nearly three times more than the ordinary stuff — by carefully crafted design. "It has spent millions pushing not only the seemingly life-changing properties of the product itself, but also the company's green cred and its charity work," said Mother Jones Magazine. Positioning itself "squarely at the nexus of pop-culture glamour and progressive politics," Fiji Water works with an oppressive military regime lacking in any environmental consciousness. (See: motherjones.com/politics/2009/09/fiji-spin-bottle.)

The Bolivian city of Cochabamba was the center of an epic battle over a corporate effort to privatize its water supply. Cochabamba's uprising against Bechtel symbolizes the international struggle against corporate globalization, as Amy Goodman detailed in a recent column.

Want to make a difference?

• Learn more from "The Story of Bottled Water" http://storyofstuff.org/bottledwater.php.

• Choose tap water. When you'll be away from home, fill a reusable bottle and BYO.

• Ask favorite restaurants to stop selling bottled water.

• Buy bottled water only when traveling where water is unavailable or of doubtful quality.

Start thinking outside the bottle.

Students at Penn State are constructing a greenhouse of empty water bottles.

I live in Port Angeles, where Gail Cortese of Brierwood Farm offers "eco-scarves," hand made with carefully selected yarn made from recycled plastic bottles at the local Farmers Market. "Each scarf keeps one plastic bottle out of our landfill," said Cortese, a longtime recycler.

There's a Facebook page "I refuse to buy bottled water in a developed country!"

Washington state lawmakers recently added a temporary tax on bottled water. But Oregon and California have bottle-deposit laws. What will it take for Washington to consider learning from its neighbors?

Diana Somerville lives in Port Angeles.

This article incorrectly stated the source of Crystal Geyser's water as California's Owens Valley. A company spokeswoman says that has never been a source for Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water. The company has six sources for its spring water, which is bottled at the source.

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