Poland Spring, Vintage 2008

Are the environmental aspects of bottled water any match for its snob appeal?

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My previous post on bottled water inspired comments from both sides of the debate. Reader Joel pointed out that bottled water can cost more per ounce than beer, while Stand Back and Look at the Big Picture said that he or she prefers bottled water because it's better for us than soda—and besides, our landfills will just get clogged up with other stuff. But even those who chug their bottled water each day may roll their eyes at this one: gourmet bottled water, paired specially with food and wine, and served up by a water sommelier as if it were a glass of Bordeaux.

While some restaurants (such as Alice Waters's famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley) have eliminated bottled water from their menus, others are encouraging people to shell out cash for bottled water found farther afield than Fiji—some comes from Tasmanian rain water or Hawaiian volcanic springs.

In an article for MSNBC, Michael Mascha, principal of Finewaters.com and the author of Fine Waters: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Most Distinctive Bottled Waters, says that since most water has little taste (the fine water experience is more about the density of the minerals in the water and how the bubbles feel in our mouth), an important factor in our enjoyment of bottled water is the bottle itself:

Beyond the pure flavor considerations, you should also take intangible qualities like presentation and a water's story into account when choosing your bottled water. The bottle plays an important role in the overall perception of the water. Since water has no notable visible characteristics of its own, the bottle has a remarkable impact on perceived value. Matching the presentation to the venue or event may have no influence on the actual taste (as any blind water tasting will tell you), but doing so can significantly enhance the experience, or be detrimental to it.

Plastic or glass; minimalist or traditional design; attention grabbing or discreet; blue or transparent bottlers offer many presentation options. Wine bottle design, on the other hand, is fairly uniform; most wineries focus all their attention on the label. With water, we are lucky: Both the label and the bottle can express terroir (as is the case for Antipodes, Bling H2O, and Finé).

On his website, writers for the Fine Waters newsletters make a case against environmental activists and " busybody lawmakers" objections to the proven detriments of bottled water. They argue that bottled water would only save a tiny percentage of oil, that bottled water tastes better (though many can't tell the difference in a blind taste test), that it filters out harmful chemicals (but also things that are good for us, like fluoride), and that people should have the right to choose what products are of value to them, whether it's bottled water or any other product that requires packaging and shipping.

So, bottled water drinkers, are you loyal to your Dasani, or does the taste and texture of Perrier (or your $55 bottle of Bling H20) keep you buying bottles? Or does the carbonation in Pellegrino and its peers make it inherently more valuable, and therefore less wasteful, than the filtered tap water of many still-water bottlers?

And in response to reader Gwen, who was looking for a safe, reusable water bottle: Check out Ideal Bite, which lists several makers of sturdy bottles in a variety of materials. It recommends aluminum.


TAGS:
environment
water

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