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Great Lakes Article:

Bottled water is booming despite environmental concerns, price
By Emily Gersema
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Walk through the beverage aisle of a grocery store and it is hard to miss the seemingly endless supply of bottled water on the shelves. Sparkling, fizzy, mineral, distilled, purified: Bottled water comes in many forms as well as flavors such as lemon, black cherry, raspberry, kiwi, and strawberry.

Manufacturers sold more than $7.7 billion worth of bottled water in the United States last year, an increase of 12.3 percent from 2001, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. Last year, the average U.S. consumer drank 21 gallons (79.5 liters) of bottled water, about 11 percent more than in 2001, the marketing group says.

Some environmental groups and consumers are concerned both about bottled water's price and effect on the world's water supply.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that bottled water is 240 times to 10,000 times more expensive than tap water. While consumers may pay a few dollars for every thousand gallons (liters) of tap water, they can pay almost $2 per gallon (3.8 liter) of some brands of bottled water.

The organization also says the booming bottled water industry could be draining aquifers and other water resources, contributing to pollution and producing energy inefficiencies.

There's "an immense waste of energy and plastic and resources if you consider the number of bottles that are made and transported and disposed of," said Erik Olson, a lawyer for NRDC.

Researchers are warning that if water use continues to increase at the current rate, the world will be in very short supply in 22 years.

J. Darius Bikoff, president and chief executive of Energy Brands Inc., says the water it markets is a tiny fraction of total water usage.

"I don't think if you look at every gallon of water that it has a big impact on total global production by nature," said Bikoff, whose company makes the brands Vitamin Water and Smart Water.

Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Research Institute, agrees that bottled water companies are not a factor in the depletion of water resources. He cites information from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

A consumer typically drinks a little more than a gallon (3.8 liters) of water every day. But food companies and farms worldwide use up to 1,300 gallons (4,921 liters) every day to produce food, the U.N. agency says. That means 70 percent of total water withdrawals are for producing food.

"If we're looking at supply problems, it's not likely to have that much of an effect," Brown said of bottled water production. He noted that some countries must rely on bottled water to drink because some of their tap water is too polluted.

About one-fourth of bottled water is tap water, according to the International Bottled Water Association.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires beverage companies to label their waters to define where the water came from and if it's been purified or carbonated. Bottled water can be classified with terms such as purified, spring, sterile, and artesian, or well water.

Water is used for many things, from electricity production to dishwashing. Some of the EPA's facts on water:

+ A person uses about two gallons (7.6 liters) of water for brushing teeth.

+ When taking a five-minute shower, a person is soaked by 25 gallons to 50 gallons (95 liters to 190 liters) of water.

+ Automatic dishwashers generally use nine gallons to 12 gallons (34 liters to 45 liters), but someone washing dishes by hand generally uses 20 gallons (76 liters).

+ Of all the Earth's water, only 1 percent is suitable for drinking.

+ Many animals, fruits, and vegetables are made mostly of water. An elephant is 70 percent water, a chicken is 75 percent water, an ear of corn is 80 percent water, and a tomato is 95 percent water. An adult human being is 50 percent to 65 percent water, a child 75 percent water.

+ It takes 1,851 gallons (7,000 liters) of water to refine one barrel of crude oil.

+ Twenty-four gallons (91 liters) are needed to make one pound (a half-kilogram) of plastic.

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