Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It
by Elizabeth Royte
It started with a trickle of mineral water, sold in pale-green glass bottles and vouched for by Orson Welles. But Perrier’s 1977 push into the U.S. market was just the beginning. A little more than a decade later, no self-respecting supermodel could be seen without a liter of Evian in hand. Once cheap, ultra-clear bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate were developed, Nestlé and Coca-Cola jumped in, helping U.S. bottled-water sales balloon from $115 million in 1990 to almost 35 times that in 1997. Americans now spend $11 billion a year on bottled water, but are beginning to question the wisdom of doing so. Recently, the city of Cleveland proved that its tap water contains less arsenic than a leading bottled brand.
Elizabeth Royte’s new book arrives in the middle of a modest bottled-water backlash, said Meghan O’Rourke in Slate. Shipping all those bottles burns energy, and consumers are also concerned about how the billions of empties discarded by Americans each year are affecting our land and public water sources. Recently, both Seattle and San Francisco decided to end all municipal purchases of bottled water. A reader might thus expect that Royte, a green-minded New Yorker, would spend her entire book shaming Aquafina drinkers, said Chris Mooney in the New Scientist. Fortunately, her “reportorial honesty gets the better of her politics,” and she even shows that in certain situations bottled water can be the safer, more responsible choice.
Still, Royte’s anti-business instincts make her “hard to trust,” said Matthew Rees in The Wall Street Journal. She clearly sides with residents of the small Maine town who resent local water bottling giant Poland Spring. That fight, though, does raise interesting questions about the private control of water supplies, and Royte moves quickly enough into an entertaining visit with a water connoisseur. Indeed, her “tautly paced volume more closely resembles a travel narrative than a tree-hugging jeremiad,” said Mark Coleman in the Los Angeles Times. Royte ultimately chooses to fit her own kitchen sink with a new filtering system. She remains confident that tap water is underrated: In 89 percent of American municipalities it meets or exceeds all health standards. But she’s learned that trusting it over the bottled stuff is “far from risk-free.”