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

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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 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.

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Bloomsbury USA
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5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

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