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Is Bottled Water Ethical? Report


Introduction

The bottled water industry is one that has grown tremendously in the contemporary society, with multinational corporations such as Pepsi, Coke and Nestle earning billions of dollars in the form of returns annually from the sale of water.

Bottled water is simply clean water produced either by reverse osmosis, distillation or de-ionization of regular or tap water. It can be sparkling water, which is basically carbonated water, or glacial water, which is water obtained directly from a glacier.

Natural water on the other hand is obtained from a specific and recommended underground source which is not from the municipal water supply system. Mineral and spring water is from an underground source which contains relatively high amounts of dissolved mineral salts.

There is also artesian water, which is water from a well that bears an underground layer of sand or preferably rocks.

Bottled water has been a source of major debates and research on why citizens would prefer to spend a lot of money in purchasing something that is available for free in the society.

One side of the debaters believes that the selling of bottled water is a practice that is unethical as water is freely available in the environment, and again it leads to unnecessary use of resources in packaging and distributing such water, when it can be easily fetched from the tap.

A study conducted in the United States revealed that citizens of the United States consumed up to 8.45 gallons of water that has been bottled in 2009, an aspect that saw them spend $10.6 billion on the same.

The interesting part was that the citizens paid 1000 more times for bottled water in comparison to the tap water cost, when most the same bottled water had been drawn from the municipal tap water.

It is thus an issue of concern that the public would prefer to embrace a practice that leads to wastage of resources and imposes on them high economic costs, when they can easily obtain the commodity naturally from the environment (Gallagher 2011).

Why People Have Embraced Bottled Water

The major drive behind the high consumption of bottled water is the appeal that is created by the packaging used (Gleick 2010). Bottled water companies have embraced various advanced marketing strategies, with the major one being the use of the packaging to attract their consumers.

The bottles used in packaging bottled water to always make the water to appear cooler and healthier than the tap water. However, it is evident that tap water is as safe as bottled water for consumption.

Using blind taste tests, a study was conducted with the aim of differentiating between tap water and bottled water. It was identified from the study that the participants were not able to differentiate between tap water and bottled water through taste.

The study reveals that there is no much difference between these two categories of water. In any case, bottle water is only but a purified version of tap water.

This does not mean that tap water is not clean; the filters are only used to further clean the tap water that is already clean enough for consumption.

The incorporation of beautiful images such as those of springs and mountains on the water bottles and further adding of terms such as pure on the pack creates an impression of the extra purity of the bottled water as compared to tap water.

As a result, they are pushed towards preferring bottled water (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 2).

Other forms of impression such as images of pregnant women consuming bottled water have also been developed in the marketing of bottled water, thus further building a perception of the water being healthier among the consumers (Natural Resources Defence Council 2013).

The bottled water companies also develop terms on the packaging which define the origin of water as a place full of purity.

For instance, water may be displayed as originating from the Andes, and an image of a stream emanating from the mountain is added in the package just to emphasize the purity of the water.

This kind of display and the use of special terms to define the origin of water create a healthy impression of the water.

Other companies also develop beautiful advertisements that are used to capture the attention of the consumers and thus to facilitate purchases of bottled water (Saylor, Prokopy & Amberg 2011, p. 589).

Impact of Bottled Water on the Environment

The entire process of production and distribution of bottled water has a major impact on the environment. To start with, bottled water wastes resources. Environmental degradation starts from the point of production because the amount of energy required to bottle and distribute water is high.

The production process involves several processes before bottled water is ready for consumption. The biggest impact is felt in the fossil fuels. In this case, fossil fuels are used in the production process by running the machinery and in the distribution process through running the vehicles.

For instance, in 2007, the bottled water industry used almost 54 million oil barrels, in the production and distribution of bottled water. The same amount of fuel can be used by 1.5 million cars in the United States for an entire year (Bartol et al. 2011).

This is energy could be referred to as wasted energy given that it could be saved if individual citizens would resolve to using tap water and even carrying some in re-usable bottles.

Another aspect of environmental concern in relation to bottled water is the kind of impact the non-biodegradable plastics have on the environment. Bottled water is mainly packed in plastic bottles which are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Plastic bottles make up the best type of packaging since they do not easily break on impact with the floor, besides being lighter in weight. As much as some of these plastic bottles are recycled, a higher percentage of the plastic bottles are dumped into the landfills, streams, lakes, and oceans.

Such plastic bottles fail to decompose, leading to the pollution of the environment (Food & Water Watch 2013).

With the current rate of production of plastic bottles for packaging of bottled water and the low rate at which recycling is being embraced, it goes without saying that in the future the plastic bottles may dig into more land as they will fill up the landfills.

Most bottles have also been observed to end up scattered everywhere, polluting the environment (Stephenson 2009, p. 23). These water bottles do not easily decompose and they only end up releasing toxic chemicals into the groundwater (Cheng, Shi & Adams 2010, p. 1325).

By polluting the ground water, the lives that are supported by this water are thus affected. Through incineration, the plastic material release smoke that is toxic into the atmosphere. This smoke also consists of greenhouse gases that play a role in climatic changes and global warming.

Ethical Issues Regarding Bottled Water

Ethics in a given business or industry require that moral and ethical principles be observed. It applies to all aspects of a company’s or brand’s conduct, impacts and purposes.

Functional business areas where the issues of ethics apply include a product’s environmental, financial, production, sales and marketing and human impact paradigm.

In the bottled water industry, of particular interest is the issue of environmental degradation that arise from the packaging.

The industry’s ethical position can also be analyzed in its impact in creating employment, companies obligations to their employees in the industry, among other concerns.

The question of whether it is a healthy practice to drink water from a plastic bottle has been subjected to a lot of arguments.

As much as bottled water companies exploit all the possibilities available avenues to explain the safety of bottled water, several researchers have concluded that bottled water has health effects on the users (Suzuki & Boyd 2008, p. 68).

The same researchers have proven that the primary source of bottled water is the same as that of the tap water. In any case, tap water could be safer than bottled water due to the fact that the former is regulated by the strict EPA body while the latter is regulated by the more lenient FDA.

The tap water is also under the management of the Municipal service, which is part of the government, and thus they ensure that they supply the public with high quality products (Ahmad & Bajahlan 2009).

Of imprortance is the fact that bottled water does not provide any specific health benefits to the consumer. Municipal water in many countries is equally clean and is frequently inspected for toxic chemicals and bacteria.

In the U.S. for example, safety is ensured through the close supervision of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Despite the fact that safety groups point out that most municipal water systems are old and rusty, there is very little evidence suggesting that bottled water is healthier than tap water.

Furthermore, the plastic container used in packaging has been noted to be in itself a risk.

Bottled water companies have maintained that the plastic bottles that they use in packaging water is safe enough and that it does not expose the users to chemical pigments that could affect their health (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 3).

However, according to studies carried out by the government of the United States and other independent researchers, the main plastic components, BPA, used in the production of bottles that are used in packaging of bottled water can fall into the packed water and thus be consumed by the users of the water.

The chemical has adverse health effects in the body as it has been identified to mimic estrogen. Besides, the chemical; is linked to various health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and problems of the liver.

These are chronic conditions which do not have a cure, but they can only be managed and controlled. In worst cases, these conditions can lead to death. This is an issue of ethics as the company knows that the plastic components are toxic, yet they encourage the public to use it.

“”The company also exhibits a lack of ethics when they claim that what they present to the public is purer when they are aware that the water and the bottles are regulated by two different bodies” (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 3).

It is also an issue of ethicality that the bottled water companies do not guarantee the safety of the bottles under different conditions of storage.

For instance, in the United States, a label is placed on each bottle of water in the form of a number, one that identifies the type of the plastic material used to make the bottle (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 4).

It is important to note that some plastic materials can be reused for more than one time, while others are only used once. Most of the companies that process bottled water use the type 1 water bottle, which is only meant for use once.

However, the companies do not enlighten the public on the dangers of repeatedly using such bottles. They also fail to consider the conditions under which such bottles are stored before they are used, ignoring the fact that the bottles are bound to spoil while stored under given conditions.

In a study conducted by Harvard University students, it was determined that the level of exposure of individuals to BPA through using bottled water is so high.

In the study, 77 students were exposed to a ‘cleanup’ practice for a week, where they were given water for drinking only from stainless steel containers, in order to reduce the level at which they were exposed to BPA (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 5).

In the next step, participants were handed two polycarbonate bottles. They were to use them as the drinking vessel each time they consumed cold beverages for the two weeks that followed.

At the end of each of the two weeks, the urine sample of the participants was taken and the levels of BPA determined. “The results showed a sharp increase of BPA up to 69 percent after the second week, in which the participants used polycarbonate bottles” (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 5).

From the studies, it was identified that the plastic bottles expose the users to BPA, and hence to the health effects that come with BPA.

In the cases where small baby bottles are headed in the water in order to warm their water, there is a likelihood of the bottles further releasing BPA into the water.

This is an issue of major concern when it involves infants since they are likely to be susceptible to BPA’s endocrine-disrupting potential (Chellaney 2013, p. 131).

Organizational Social Responsibility

As much as most of the companies have shown lack of ethics in their activities, some companies have developed various activities that are aimed at protecting their consumers and also ensuring that they maintain environmental conservation.

For instance, various bottled water companies have embraced recycling, with the aim of reducing the environmental impact of the plastics.

Organizations such as Coca-Cola have developed marketing campaigns that have educated the public on the need to recycle the company’s bottles (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 5). The organization is aiming at reducing the amount of plastic bottles that end up in the landfills.

In order to facilitate this, the company produces high quality bottles that can be reused.

The International Bottled Water Association has also rallied behind bottled water companies in creating awareness among the public on the importance of recycling the plastic bottles and reducing the environmental effect of these non-biodegradable substances.

In the year 2010, the bottled water was identified to contribute more than a third wastes to the stream of wastes in the United States (Shaw 2011). Thus, the bottled water companies have exhibited ethics by reducing the environmental effects of their products.

However, the process of waste recycling may not be as successful as it may be depicted. A survey conducted by the Container Recycling Institute revealed that the bottled water industry still released up to 1.5 tons of wastes of plastic bottles every year.

The American people buy up to 34.6 billion water bottles, with 8 out of every ten of these bottles ending up in incinerators and landfills (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 6).

How to Promote Recycling

The number of plastic bottles that go without being recycled is so large. These bottles, as earlier observed facilitate environmental degradation. Thus, proper measures should be put in place to ensure that the flow of plastic bottles into the landfills and incinerators is minimized.

One of the measures that can be embraced in order to facilitate the recycling of plastic bottles is that of developing bottle deposit bills in countries that do not have such bills, while including provisions in bills that already exist in countries that have such bills (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 6).

These bills would require one to pay an extra amount when purchasing beverages that have been packed in plastic bottles, and they should be refunded the extra amount when they return the bottles for recycling.

In the United States, higher rates of bottle recycling have been experienced in the various countries which have bottle deposit bills.

For instance, in California, 80 percent of the soda and beer containers were reported to undergo recycling after the bottle deposit bill was introduced in the state (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 6). A great reduction in the levels of waste was also registered in the state.

However, these bills have been observed to fail in most settings as they are highly opposed by the beverage industries through developing public relations that are extensive, using powerful lobbyists, and engaging in campaign contributions (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 6).

Companies are opposed to such a move because they are afraid it will increase their costs of doing business, consequently, reducing their sales volume, since they would have to pass on the cost to consumers.

These companies also fear that possibility of such a move drawing attention towards the fact the these companies fail to meet their corporate social responsibilities by producing so much waste, which they release into the environment.

The efforts that have been exhibited by various organizations in terms of reducing the amount of plastic material used in making the plastic bottles have proved to be of less worth, and thus there is a need for the companies to develop other measures that would allow them to effectively cut on environmental pollution.

Benefits of Recycling

Efforts have been developed by bottled water companies towards developing recycling strategies, that are aimed at reducing the amount of waste plastic that is released into the environment and the environmental damage caused by such wastes (Bartol et al. 2011, p. 6).

During the recycling process, most of the bottles are reduced into the plastic material of lower grade, which is later used to create other objects such as tires, playing equipment, and carpets.

Those PET bottles are broken down using chemicals, and then they are later sorted into various colors, crushed, cleaned, and cut into small pieces that are pressed into bales.

These flakes are later twirled into thread and yarn. What comes out of this process, usually threads, can be, together with other fibers, be used to make other material and different fabrics.

These fabrics and material can be used to create other durable and strong items such as coats, jackets, hats, bags and shoes.

Conclusion

The bottled water industry is one of the fastest growing, and one that attracts an equal measure of criticism and appreciation at the same time. As explained in the paper, ethics in a given business or industry require that moral and ethical principles be observed.

It applies to all aspects of a company’s or brand’s conduct, impacts and purposes. Functional business areas where the issues of ethics apply include a product’s environmental, financial, production, sales and marketing and human impact paradigm.

For example, if the production process of a product risks the lives of employes, employers and the community around, ethical obligations are considered to be violated. In the bottled water industry, of particular interest is the issue of environmental degradation that arise from the packaging.

The industry’s ethical position can also be analyzed in its impact in creating employment, companies obligations to their employees in the industry, among other concerns.

It is evident that bottled water has penetrated its roots deep into the society, which individuals spending large amounts of money purchasing this kind of water, while disregarding the same source of such water, tap water, with is naturally available and for free.

It had been observed that the water companies have created attractive images and terms that are incorporated on the packages, which create an impression of how healthy and cool such water is, as compared to the tap water.

As a result, most individuals have been pulled towards bottled water not knowing the various health problems that they are exposing themselves to.

The plastic bottles mainly used to pack bottled water consists of BPA chemical, which may leak into the water and cause the health effects such as diabetes, liver problems and heart attacks to individuals, if they consume such water.

Various companies have developed recycling frameworks whereby they recycle the plastic bottles and they come up with other objects. This is important as it reduces the environmental effects that come with the plastic bottles for packing water.

These bottles have been observed to leak chemicals into groundwater and to emit dangerous gases into the atmosphere when incinerated (Cheng, Shi & Adams 2010, p. 1325).

As much as recycling stands out to be the most effective method of handling these negative effects to the environment, it has not been adequately embraced, and thus, proper measures need to be put in place in order to promote recycling.

One of these measures involves the development of bottle deposit bills.

Reference List

Ahmad, M & Bajahlan, AS 2009, ‘Quality Comparison of tap water vs. Bottled water in the Industrial City of Yanbu (Saudi Arabia)’, Environmental Monitoring Assessment, vol 159, pp. 1-14.

Bartol, D, Canney, J, Cunningham, J, Flaherty, S & McNamee, L 2011, ‘Marketing of Bottled Water: Business and Ethical Issues’, Rivier Academic Journal, vol 7, no. 1, pp. 1-8.

Chellaney, B 2013, Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis, 1st edn, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, Boulevard.

Cheng, X, Shi, H & Adams, CD 2010, ‘Assessment of metal contaminations leaching out from recycling plastic bottles upon treatments’, Environmental Science & Pollution Resources, vol 17, pp. 1323–1330.

Food & Water Watch 2013, . Web.

Gallagher, J 2011, ‘Raising Waters’, Supermarket News, vol 59, no. 13.

Gleick, P H 2010, Bottled and sold: The story behind our obsession with bottled water, Island Press, Washington, DC.

Natural Resources Defense Council 2013, . Web.

Saylor, A, Prokopy, LS & Amberg, S 2011, ‘What’s Wrong with the Tap? Examining Perceptions of Tap Water and Bottled Water at Purdue University’, Environmental Management, vol 48, pp. 588-601.

Shaw WH 2011, Business ethics. Boston, MA, Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Stephenson, JB 2009, Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections are Often Less Stringent, United States Government Accountability Office, Washington, D.C.

Suzuki, D & Boyd, DR 2008, David Suzuki’s Green Guide, Greystone Books, Vancouver.

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