55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
This is a remarkably interesting read that I am afraid hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. Ever since I read an article on "Fast Company" on the phenomenon of bottled water, I have been intrigued by it. A recent review in "Seed" introduced me to this book. I am glad that I read it.
Despite the "funny" review of a top 1000 reviewer (imagine that) that considers this book as propaganda for more regulation, it is quite the opposite. The book comes across as a systematic analysis of how the industry evolved and some on-the-scene reporting of key players like Nestle and Poland Springs. The chapter on the latter, neatly cataloging the unimaginable conflicts of interests and a apparently pliant local public officials, alone is worth the price of the book. It is impossible for a reader not to be shocked at some of the reporting (the author almost always avoids any preachy tone). The contrasts and comparisons drawn between the Freysburg and Kingsfield communities is an interesting read as well. There is another chapter that outlines some actions companies like Coke are taking to evaluate their footprint. Another chapter worth mentioning is "Something to Drink?" - the last chapter which takes a broader viewpoint and ties the topics to global warming and related issues. You will learn fun stats as "a cotton t-shirt is backed by 528.3 gallons of water and a single cup of coffee by 52.8 gallons".
Now, the negatives - The book takes a decidely US-centric narration. There is no extensive discussion on similar issues outside of the US (though there is some mention on the Coke debacle in India). The first-account narrative style helps to provide a very down-to-earth method to convey the ideas, but sometimes distracts from highlighting some of the salient points being made.
Nevertheless, an informative, entertaining read that will certainly question the utility of an entire industry.
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2008
The title is cute and catchy and implies the book is a lightweight screed about the erstwhile evils of drinking bottled water. Yes, the initial starting point for Ms. Royte's inquiry was asking some simple questions about the impacts and equities of a corporation bottling huge quantities of Maine springwater. But this is an important environmental book, in the same league as "An Inconvenient Truth".
This is because Ms. Royte's simple questions about bottled water lead her and us on an exploration of a whole hidden world of our water and sanitation resources and infrastructure that lies behind our taps. How does bottled springwater differ from tap water in terms of harmful biological and chemical contaminants? How did the fad of chugging water out of throwaway plastic bottles catch on? Where does our tap water come from? How is it treated? Is that necessarily good for us? What is happening to the watersheds that all of us depend on? How can they be protected? How are water and sanitation systems interrelated? Are these groundwater and freshwater issues affected by other environmental trends, like global warming? And so on.
Like Ms. Royte, you will probably come to the end of this brisk, readable work knowing a lot more about your own water and sanitation then you did when you began and have a much better appreciation of the somewhat unsurprising policy conclusions she reaches: that protecting our public drinking water "commons" makes more sense than drinking water bottled at distant plants.
Although judging by the cute title and cover art the topic might seem a bit frothy and more of a treatise on marketing and product development, the author's target is much wider. I am an environmental attorney and have handled permitting and litigation involving public water supply and sanitary treatment systems and bottled springwater, and am impressed by how the author is able to get so much technical detail right, while keep it readable and interesting to a lay audience. Ms. Royte has written one of the best general interest books in a long while on an important, probably, THE most important environmental topic (other than climate change/greenhouse gases) of "wat-san" and preserving/expanding our aging public water and sewer infrastructure. In getting to those conclusions by starting her inquiry with questions about commoditized bottled water, the author attempts to be evenhanded and fair in her depiction of the corporate and individual actors without overly indulging in anti-corporate bias.
My only minor quibble is the omission of any discussion of state licensing requirements and associated testing and reporting requirements (where it says, e.g., "NYSHD Cert. No. ___" on the label in small type). However, that's just a small omission, although I'm surprised the Nestle people didn't mention that there are state reviews of their in-house analytical and production data, it would seem to make their case stronger that water quality is not merely self-regulated or conforming only to advisory industry standards (i.e., IBWA) with respect to periodic testing, labeling and allowable maximum contaminant levels. That small error however does not detract significantly from the quality of this book. I've just ordered a few more copies of this book to share with several friends and colleagues who I think would be interested, that's how much I'm recommending it.
46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2008
Elizabeth Royte has written the best book available on the bottled water industry. Focusing on Nestle Waters North America and its Poland Spring operations in Maine, Royte's writing is knowledgeable, even-handed, and hip, and has none of the hyperbolic mewling that many environmentalist writers fall prey to. She provides sweeping and insightful coverage of the history, hydrogeology, chemistry, technology, politics, economics, and social psychology of the commodification of water. Readers will develop a better appreciation of just how unhealthy, environmentally destructive, and frankly crazy it is to buy and drink bottled water. An enlightening joy to read. Thanks, Elizabeth!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
"Bottlemania" is a continuation of the dialog started by Royte in her book "Garbage Land" in 2006, this time looking more specifically at the bottled water business that has sprung up in the past decade. Royte takes a multi-disciplinary approach to analyzing the industry looking at the science, the marketing, the commerce, and the politics of selling water and the results are disturbing to say the least. Royte's prose is always engaging and entertaining as she investigates the industry with a reformer's zeal and she asks hard questions that consumers should be asking themselves: in a time when we have perhaps the cleanest tap water why do we spend billions on bottled water, what is the true cost of this industry, how do the practices of the industry harm communities and consumers, and perhaps the most fundamental question of all, is bottled water really all that good for us? Royte casts a wide net, looking at the adverse environmental and economic impact bottlers have to local water sources, concerns over BPA in plastic bottles, the lack of recycling for those plastic bottles (a theme explored in "Garbage Land" as well), the heavy carbon footprint for transporting water to consumers, comparisons of tap water and bottled water, and how the water companies subtly play on consumers fears through their marketing. In the end "Bottlemania" is a call to invest in our failing water infrastructure to ensure continued water safety and to avoid the potential for water scarcity. Many of the best water systems waste a considerable amount of treated potable water through leakage before it even reaches consumers homes; something that will be unthinkable in a time of water shortages. And while we've treated tap water as a cheap commodity not worth worrying over bottled water has instead become a fetish, something essential yet also something that makes a statement about the individual. We chuckle at comics satirizing people who pay more for bottled water than they pay for gasoline or milk and yet our favored "fashion accessory" is that same bottle of water. Hopefully "Bottlemania" will make readers think twice about the high price we truly pay.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
There are some who predict that water will be the next oil. The world has not quite reached that point yet, but the early signs are painfully evident for those who care to look. Oddly, millions of Americans are already willingly and unnecessarily paying more per gallon for bottled water than they pay for gasoline, even though they can get nearly the same water from the taps for pennies.
Elizabeth Royte attempts to address the bizarre cult and psychology of bottled water in her entertaining and highly readable book, BOTTLEMANIA: HOW WATER WENT ON SALE AND WHY WE BOUGHT IT. To her great credit, Ms. Royte tackles a macro issue through micro means, turning what could have been pages of dry statistics into highly personal stories that shed revealing light on how water issues, particularly those raised by bottled water, affect local communities. The stories she tells are devastating, as are the lessons to be learned.
For readers who, like me, are not well acquainted with the bottled water world, the first important fact to know is who the players are. Not the brands, the players. Heard of Poland Spring? Deer Park? Perrier? San Pellegrino? Arrowhead? Calistoga? Ice Mountain? Ozarka? Zephyrhills? All of those brands - all of them - are owned by one company, Nestle. How about Aquafina? That's Pepsi. How about Dasani, or Glaceau? Those are Coca-Cola. Evian? That's Danone (Dannon), but in the U.S., that's Coca-Cola, too. Next, do you know that Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani are just bottled tap water? Purified and with some minerals added, to be sure, but just tap water. How about this one - that companies like Nestle extra billions of gallons of spring water from around the United States and rarely pay anything to the local community. In other words, they are selling a product that comes to them for free. Or this one - that it takes 17 million barrels of oil each year to make the plastic bottles for just the U.S. bottled water market, which doesn't even begin to account for the oil consumed in transporting those bottles to market or disposing of them.
Ms. Royte's book is full of information like this. She uses as her focal point the long-term battles that have taken place in northwestern Maine between Poland Spring (Nestle) and the local communities, particularly that of Fryeburg. Along the way, the Fryeburg story provides her with a highly local context in which to hash out the far larger national and even global ramifications of control over water, from management of watersheds to impacts of bottling on local watertables and aquifers, from tap water quality to the environmental impact of countless millions of plastic water bottles. The author even digresses into a couple of curiously humorous asides, one concerning bottle water aficionados and another addressing the rather unsettling notion of large scale recycling (for tap water consumption) of water extracted from human waste.
BOTTLEMANIA will likely be, for many, a wake-up call. The environmental impacts of bottled water are clearly horrendous, and the lack of regulation and increasing corporatization and privatization of water supply (bottled or not) should be distressing concerns not just in the United States, but worldwide. In that regard, I very highly recommend a documentary DVD called FLOW about international water privatization by companies like Vivendi and Suez as as a remarkably on-point companion piece to Ms. Royte's book.
Ms. Royte's book is not perfect - she is too reluctant to engage in polemics when they are clearly called for, and at least some supplementary statistics presented in tabular form (including a list of all the major and lesser bottled waters and their ownerships) would have been helpful. In addition, she takes perhaps too much of a pass on calling out Americans for their gullibility, laziness, and gross wastefulness as it pertains to the entire bottled water movement. Nevertheless, BOTTLEMANIA serves an important educative purpose, and it does so in an engaging and entertaining way. This is a book that should be required reading for every high school student in America - regrettably, few will probably ever even know about it.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2008
Bottlemania: how water went on sale and why we bought it
(Published by Bloomsbury USA, New York - First edition 2008)
What is our future if water, life's most vital necessity, becomes a commodity - to be sold for profit - rather than a shared commons? In this fast-moving, well-researched book, Elizabeth Royte describes the astonishing increase in sales of bottled water in the U.S.; this, despite the fact that tap water costs anywhere from 240 to 10,000 times less than bottled water, is more strictly regulated, and comes out evenly in blind tests against the top brand names.
Royte raises two main questions: "One has concrete answers: what are the physical differences between tap water and bottled, and what is water bottling actually doing to the environment and the local communities? The other questions are more abstract: Even if bottled water makes sense, for health or other reasons, even if it is harmless, is it ethical to profit from its sale? If we believe water is a basic human right - such as freedom from persecution or equality before the law - then why would we let anyone slap a bar code on it?
In addressing the first question, Royte describes the struggles of the residents of Fryeburg, Maine - population 3,000 - to stop Poland Springs, owned by Nestle, from continuing to extract water from their local, pristine watershed to supply their bottling plant in the nearby town of Hollis. The struggle has been ongoing for over four years and it is tearing the town apart. Some residents claim that their wells are running dry but find this hard to prove against Nestle's array of experts that claim they are not over-pumping. Other residents are concerned with the effects of water drawdown on those creatures that depend on the watershed streams and springs for their survival. Others question the right of a powerful multinational to override the wishes of a small community to maintain their lifestyle. And yet other town residents are amenable to what they perceive as improvements brought about by the bottling company. Sadly, the result is a small town divided into factions, with the outcome still unclear.
Royte explains the reasons for the skyrocketing sales of bottled water. Unbelievably, from only 1990 to 1997, U.S. sales of bottled water increased from $115 million to $4 billion. Clever, multimillion dollar marketing stressed the need to drink at least eight, eight fluid ounce bottles per day; the "chic appeal" of being seen taking sips from your individual bottle - a sign of a busy life style that precluded time out for relaxation; and the convenience of having a bottle in hand rather than having to seek out a water fountain or office cooler. The increase was also due to an often-overlooked invention - PET plastic that enabled the manufacture of stronger, lighter and potentially recyclable bottles.
Unfortunately, this craze for bottled water is placing ever more stress on the environment. As explained by Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institue, the energy required for the manufacture, transport and disposal of each bottle is equivalent to filling one quarter of the bottle with oil. And only 15% of these bottles get recycled. Most are buried in landfills or are burned in incinerators.
According to Royte, in 2006, 44% of bottled water sold in the U.S. came from municipal supplies. This is certainly less harmful than pumping from aquifers although the bottling companies deny any harm and claim that they pump at sustainable rates - after all, this is in their own interests. Even though the bottlers claim that they only remove .02% of the total annual groundwater withdrawal, we must remember that this water is permanently removed from the watershed, unlike the local utility that discharges used water into the same watershed.
With public thirst for bottled water on the increase, the water multinationals are fanning out all over the U.S. in search of fresh sources. So far, the towns are reacting like deer caught in the headlights and seem unable to promulgate ordinances prohibiting outsiders from mining their water for gain. The one exception (there may be others since the book was published) is the tiny hamlet of Barnstead, N.H. which, in 2006, was the first municipality in the U.S. to ban extraction of their water for sale elsewhere.
The discovery of the disinfection properties of chlorine, and the commencement of its widespread use in drinking water, in 1920, was the start of the successful public control of drinking water, and the setting of standards for maximum levels of various pollutants - standards and pollutants that are constantly being revised.
One of the more ominous threats to drinking water quality is global warming. Heavier storms that are becoming the norm wash excesses of pollutants of all kinds into surface and ground waters, and overwhelm sewage treatment plants. Among these pollutants are atrazine, a widely-used herbicide that can cause birth defects and whose use is being enhanced by the ethanol boom; and 0157:H7, a virulent strain of E coli, originating in cattle and that does not respond to chlorine.
Eliminating these dangerous contaminants, and others, and complying with strict federal standards is a monumental task for the purveyors of public drinking water. On the whole, throughout the U.S., municipal water is safe to drink. However, Royte does suggest the use of individual filters to protect the very young and the very old, or those with immune-deficient systems.
Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani are both drawn from municipal sources. However, bottled water, whether drawn from municipal sources or local aquifers does not have to comply with the stringent regulations imposed on municipal water. And despite its intensive marketing, blind tests generally fail to differentiate between bottled and tap water.
In times of severe storms that are becoming more frequent, as already mentioned, bottled water could be the only alternative. But, in the absence of such disasters, Royte is a firm advocate of using public supplies. As she so eloquently states: "Switching to bottled water isn't something I'm willing to contemplate at this point: it's expensive, it's heavy to haul around, and the production and disposal of all those bottles can't be good for the planet... Opting out of public water in favor of private isn't going to help preserve - or improve - municipal water supplies, but preserve them we must: too many people can afford to drink nothing but."
Review by Marian H. Rose, PhD
Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In Bottlemania, Elizabeth Royte explores the controversy surrounding bottled water, and the reasons for its appeal. In addition to describing the obvious environmental impacts of choosing bottled versus tap water, she visits local communities where bottled waters such as Poland Spring are sourced to learn about how consumer decisions affect such communities. Royte fairly evaluates the health risks of both bottled and municipal water, and discusses at length various ways water can be made safe to drink.
My home has well water, and I was disappointed that well water was not discussed more in this book. Although Royte does acknowledge that well water testing is expensive, she does not offer an opinion as to whether the cost of testing and potential safety hazards outweigh those associated with bottled water for those of us with wells.
Ultimately Royte offers no easy answers to some of the questions she raises, but she does make a strong case that choosing bottled water over tap makes water a commodity rather than a basic human right. Bottlemania is a quick and informative read.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2008
On a recent visit to Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park, the ranger commented that the water shooting out of the geyser was between five hundred and eighteen hundred years old. Does water have age? Yes, it does, and Elizabeth Royte's wonderful new book, "Bottlemania", explores water in its many aspects....how it is so readily available for exploitation, its packaging, its increasing relevance in our lives, and much more. As a natural resource, a commodity, a convenience and a company investment, Royte tells it all. If one thought oil was the resource du jour, stick around...water will trump it.
This is really two books in one... the author spends a good deal of time in Fryeburg, Maine, where the Nestlé corporation is doing battle with town residents regarding the extraction of water from (literally) underneath them. The battle is joined. Can the behemoth be stopped? But this is a more personal book for most of us, as well. Why do we drink so much bottled water when tap water is just as good, if not preferable? Again, look no farther than "Bottlemania" for some answers. There can be oil substitutes, but water is irreplaceable and the coming years could be a test of national will regarding its use and preservation.
Royte is an exceptionally good writer. She keeps the focus just where it needs to be and her narrative is compelling. Growing up, I never gave water a thought. Now I do. I highly recommend "Bottlemania" for this comprehensive look at water...our staff of life.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2009
BOTTLEMANIA: HOW WATER WENT ON SALE AND WHY WE BOUGHT IT proves an entertaining expose of the lengths corporations have taken to commercialize water, and the social and environmental costs of quenching human thirst. The industry of bottled water is a huge billion dollar business in the U.S. - yet only recently are consumers questioning bottle water contents and perceptions. A lively consumer's examination will appeal to a range of water-users and to any general lending library.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2011
If I had read this book before I read The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth Behind the World's Favorite Soft Drink, I would have enjoyed it more. However, "The Coke Machine" covers the many of the same issues as are touched upon here, and it covers them more succinctly and strikingly. Unless you have a particular interest in the Nestle company and its dealings in the United States, primarily, "The Coke Machine" would be a better buy. If you live on the east coast of the US, "Bottlemania" will be satisfactory.
Please note, however, that I am not in the US and mostly for that reason did not find this book greatly informative. More technical information on water capture, as it were, would have make "Bottlemania" better. Nevertheless, I finished it happily enough.