Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It

Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It

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by Elizabeth Royte
     
 

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Since humans first settled in communities, it's been the most basic question: Is the water safe to drink? Today, bottled water is dependable (mostly), but it has a huge environmental impact. Tap water is cheap, and throughout most of the developed world perfectly healthy to drink. But what about the tens of millions of Americans who don't have reliably safe tap

Overview

Since humans first settled in communities, it's been the most basic question: Is the water safe to drink? Today, bottled water is dependable (mostly), but it has a huge environmental impact. Tap water is cheap, and throughout most of the developed world perfectly healthy to drink. But what about the tens of millions of Americans who don't have reliably safe tap water? What's the best way to provide that water for ourselves and our families-without harming the environment or communities near those coveted, sparkling springs?

In Bottlemania, Elizabeth Royte pursues the answers-from a bottled-water tasting in Manhattan to a "toilet-to-tap" plant in Singapore, from a small town in Maine that's battling Poland Spring to the frontiers of the global water shortage. Eye-opening and engaging, this is the book you must read to understand the future of our most precious natural resource.

Editorial Reviews

Lisa Margonelli
Bottlemania is an easy-to-swallow survey of the subject from verdant springs in the Maine woods to tap water treatment plants in Kansas City; from the grand specter of worldwide water wars, to the microscopic crustaceans called copepods, whose presence in New York's tap water inspired a debate by Talmudic scholars about whether the critters violated dietary laws, and whether filtering water on the Sabbath constituted work. (Verdict: no and no.) Water is a topic that lends itself to tour-de-force treatment (the book Cadillac Desert and the movie Chinatown come to mind), as well as righteous indictments and dire predictions (Thirst: Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water, When the Rivers Run Dry: Water—The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century). Where others are bold, Bottlemania is subversive, and after you read it you will sip warily from your water bottle (whether purchased or tap, plastic or not)
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Royte (Garbage Land) plunges into America's mighty thirst for bottled water in an investigation of "one of the greatest marketing coups of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries." As tap water has become cleaner and better-tasting, the bottled water industry has exploded into a $60 billion business; consumers guzzle more high-priced designer water than milk or beer and spend billions on brands such as Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani that are essentially processed municipal water. It's an unparalleled-and almost exclusively American-"social phenomenon." With journalistic zeal, Royte chronicles the questionable practices of Nestle-owned Poland Springs and documents the environmental impact of discarded plastic bottles, the carbon footprint of water shipped long distances and health concerns around the leaching of plastic compounds from bottles. Not all tap water is perfectly pure, writes Royte, still, 92% of the nation's 53,000 local water systems meet or exceed federal safety standards and "it is the devil we know," at least as good and often better than bottled water. This portrait of the science, commerce and politics of potable water is an entertaining and eye-opening narrative. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Water. It's the essence of life, the main component of our bodies and our planet. It's free and seemingly accessible-yet millions of Americans pay for bottles of it every day. Environmental author Royte (Garbage Land; The Tapir's Morning Bath) discusses the historical, political, environmental, moral, and even culinary aspects of water. In a journalistic and often humorous manner, she recounts her travels to natural springs and the towns torn apart by their presence and her meetings with water executives and hydrogeologists while discussing the modern implications of the bottle vs. the tap. The story that emerges is an interesting one-there are enough backroom deals to make the plot seem fitting of the film Michael Clayton. Readers will be surprised at the many facets of the story of bottled water, and the blend of narrative with historical fact keeps the book compelling and dynamic. For those inspired to find out more about their water, Royte includes an appendix of Internet resources and a selected bibliography for further reading. Recommended for all public libraries and academic libraries with environmental science programs.
—Jaime Hammond

School Library Journal

Adult/High School

With a seamless blend of first-person observation, detailed anecdotes, and hard research, Royte explores the history and ramifications of those ubiquitous plastic and glass bottles. She addresses the economic, ecological, and cultural weight of water as she visits massive New York aqueducts, struggling rural villages in Maine, and high-tech treatment plants in Missouri. Her findings reflect the distressing trend of our heavy footprint on the environment and its resources. From petroleum-laden bottles and gas-guzzling shipping containers to serious flora and fauna shifts in small-town ponds, the "purity" of bottled water may be murkier than you might have imagined. This book will intrigue a younger generation of readers who might ask, "Wait, major corporations didn't always own water?"-Shannon Peterson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA

Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Royte (Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, 2005, etc.) traces bottled-water production and the origins of other sources of potable water. The author begins in Fryeburg, Maine, where citizens are engaged in a battle with Poland Spring over the company's water-bottling practices. Such battles are being fought across the country, many against Nestle (which also owns Deer Park, Ice Mountain and others), Coca-Cola (Dasani) and Pepsi (Aquafina). The demand is increasing rapidly, argue the corporations, and they have a point: In the period between 1997 and 2006, sales jumped from $4 billion to $10.8 billion. But don't make that argument to Howard Dearborn, an 81-year-old resident of Fryeburg who insists that Poland Spring's drilling is ruining his lake by its continuous pumping from the underground spring that feeds it. Not to mention the environmental detriment of producing and shipping all that water: In fact, the author notes, "on average, only 60 to 70 percent of the water used by bottling plants ends up on supermarket shelves: the rest is waste." The saga in Maine provides the central narrative and theme-the question of whether water should be a commodity to be bought and sold-but Royte also examines the journey of tap water, revealing the contents and relative quality of various municipal supplies across the country, including New York City and Kansas City, "where the public utility sucks from the Missouri River something that resembles chocolate Yoo-Hoo and turns it into water so good that national magazines shower it with awards and even the locals buy it in bottles." Those readers with weak stomachs may cringe at the author's descriptions of some of thewater-filtration processes-and the many chemicals, bacteria and other nasties the process supposedly filters out-but Royte deserves credit for her tenacity and well-balanced approach. Though she personally chooses not to support the bottled-water industry, she shines just as bright a light on the problems with tap-water production. She even gives voice to "bottled-water expert" Michael Mascha, who enjoys, among others, "Bling-which comes in a corked bottle decorated with Swarovski crystals." A helpful appendix follows the text. Lively investigative journalism.
From the Publisher

“Fantastic.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Ingenious.... Amiably, without haranguing or hyperventilating, this veteran environmental writer has produced what could be, assuming enough people read it, one of the year's most influential books.” —Boston Globe

“Royte's lively investigation of water politics will leave you ashamed to drink out of plastic, uneasy about the tap, and impressed by her ability to synthesize complicated material into such a witty and engaging book.” —Entertainment Weekly

“An easy-to-swallow survey.... after you read it you will sip warily from your water bottle (whether purchased or tap, plastic or not), as freaked out by your own role in today's insidious water wars as by Royte's recommended ecologically responsible drink: 'Toilet to tap'.” —Lisa Margonelli, New York Times Book Review

“Light and easy-to-read narrative…lots of interesting factoids…” —Providence Journal-Bulletin

“At a time of climate change and increasing risks to global water supplies, we must change the way we think about this crucial resource and begin treating it as a public good to be preserved, rather than the equivalent of an oil deposit or timber forest, ripe for corporate exploitation.” —New Scientist

“An intriguing look at a totem of the ultramodern, perhaps selfish, way we live now” —Time Out Chicago

“a well-balanced, interesting and instructive book about our fundamental human need to drink water” —Chicago Sun Times

“Seamlessly blending scientific explanation and social observation” —LA Times Book Review

“Bottlemania makes the case that it's not in our interests to let private multinational corporations float their boats on our nation's water. That's not democracy, it's dam-ocracy, and it could damn us all if we let their unquenchable thirst for profit take precedence over our right to clean, safe, free drinking water.” —Kerry Trueman, Huffingtonpost.com

“An intrepid, intelligent analysis of Americans' raging thirst for bottled water.” —BookPage

“An essential, if somewhat disturbing, read.” —VeryShortList.com

“A breezy, accessible history of water through the ages....a good account of the tensions in the little town of Fryeburg, Maine.” —New York Post

“A sharp indictment of the bottled-water industry” —New York Observer

“Informative” —Meghan O'Rourke, Slate.com

“Compelling and dynamic” —Library Journal

“Entertaining and eye-opening” —Publishers Weekly

“Bottlemania is eye-opening and informative; you will never look at water – either "designer" or tap – in quite the same way. Royte demonstrates how everything is, in the end, truly connected.” —Elizabeth Kolbert

“Royte deserves credit for her tenacity and well-balanced approach….Lively investigative journalism.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596913721
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
07/14/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
646,062
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Royte has written for the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, National Geographic, Outside, Smithsonian, and the New Yorker. She is the author of Garbage Land and The Tapir's Morning Bath.

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Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Charlottes-son More than 1 year ago
There are more answers than questions in this book. You will be glad you read this one. I recommend this to everyone who asks the question, why can't i drink out of the sink. Thats what we use to do, and in most cases still can. but what happened to that idea? Where is all this leading to.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looks at both the bottled water industry and U.S. municipal water systems. We can see the writer's biases, but we can also see the objectivity and balanced treatment of the subject, as well.
BryHigh More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book out of curiosity. I found myself intrigued by the discussion of our U.S. clean water infrastructure and the battles over bottling companies and some communities. If you've ever thought every bottled water is the same, read this.
ctrefren More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was informative about the causes and effects of different sources of water. Bottlemania provided very good facts about the water industry, although sometimes hard to understand. I liked how Elizabeth Royte included a story line into this book that mainly contained facts and data analysis. It made the book easier and more interesting to me because I was wondering what would happen to the town of Fryeburg, Maine. Throughout the book, tap water, purified tap water, springwater and filtered water was analyized each having some negative and positive effects. I'm still not sure which type of water I would rather drink but I think I'm going to go with tap water for now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PKinRALCC More than 1 year ago
Today, most people have a hectic life and in this hectic life of running around portability is something we have to consider. As well as portability, we wouldn't mind if it was good for us too. The solution: Bottled Water. Water is something we cannot live without and bottled water companies are taking advantage of this fact by making us pay a price for something we naturally deserve. This book to me overall was not very interesting. Some facts in the book surprised me but that was about it. The author explains everything in a very confusing way that I think most students would not understand. I thought it was confusing when she explained some of the bottled water companies. Elizabeth Royte does not give the reader a clear explanation of who the person is and what their job is. I did like how she gave some of her own opinions throughout the book. To me the whole thing about the towm versus the bottled water companies was stretched out just a little too much. This book could have been half the length of what it is.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
christie21CI More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Royte uncovers the secrets to bottled water and tells you information you never would have thought about. You end up changing your mind about if you are or are not going to drink bottled water.
TC_Writer More than 1 year ago
Royte is a solid journalist and writer, and Bottlemania delves deeply into the bottled water industry. Royte managed to connect all the pieces of this story via an interesting narrative, and like most, I wasn't entirely clear on the true sources and potential costs of bottled water. Bottlemania was an eye-opening look at bottled water -- including the real costs to the often small, rural communities involved. It's the kind of journalism that's all too rare nowadays.