Quickly trying to gather your things and your peace of mind, you relax your shoulders slightly: you’ve made it through the security checkpoint at Honolulu International Airport. Since TSA made you empty your Hydro Flask, you decide to look for a drink. The only water fountain in the terminal trickles water so intermittently that it would take ages to fill your bottle.

You considered just getting a sip to quench your thirst but perceived the risk of catching a minor disease or being shot in the face with a random jet stream as you unwillingly pursed your lips as close to the fountainhead as possible. With a defeated sigh you drag yourself to a store to find no shortage of cold, refreshing, pristine, and over-priced Hawaiian bottled water.

Chances are, you recognized maybe one of the three Hawaiian bottled water brands in that airport store. Hawaii bottles an abundance of magical life giving elixirs but for the most part the water in the bottles of Hawaiian Springs, Waiakea or Hawaii Volcanic, to name a few, is not the water that most Hawaii residents drink. As the state’s second-highest revenue-generating export, Hawaii’s water travels thousands of miles to bring in in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the local economy.

Sounds like a good trade off right? Unfortunately the implications of bottled water on our islands may not be as pristine as we hope it to be.

Does bottled water harm the environment?

Flickr: Daniel Orth

In fact, our bottled water industries gravely contribute to the exacerbation of the global water crisis, which has profoundly negative impacts on our environment and local communities.

The global water crisis is no hoax. Earth is covered in water but only 2.5 percent of it is fresh water.

Of that portion, 70 percent of it is locked in ice and nearly 30 percent is deep underground in aquifers. Just 0.3 percent of all fresh water is surface water, or what is considered “renewable water” within humanity’s conceivable lifespan.

Though agriculture is the main culprit of consumptive, meaning non-renewable, water extraction bottlers like Hawaiian Springs and Hawaii Volcanic’s unscrupulous use of artesian aquifer wells contribute to what political and environmental pundits foresee as eventual cause for future wars.

Bottled water, and its role in the global water crisis, is also about the bottles, the transportation, the marketing, the profits and the collateral damages that occur both to the environment and to human communities during and after the production of this fetishized commodity.

Though some companies are turning to glass bottling most, including the main bottling companies in Hawaii, still use polyethylene terephthalate plastic. Every PET bottle made requires double the amount of water actually in the bottle to manufacture. Since the average American consumes 36.4 gallons of bottled water per year, we are actually consuming around 72.8 gallons of bottled water.

In the same one-year span, more than 17 million barrels of crude oil is needed to produce the bottles — an amount of oil enough to sustain 1 million vehicles on the road or power approximately 190,000 American homes for one year. In a study done on FIJI Water, the manufacture and transport of one bottle was worth 7.1 gallons of water, 1 liter of fossil fuels and 1.2 pounds of greenhouse gases.

At what enormous cost does Hawaiian water make its way not to the communities where it came from but to the lobbies of five-star hotels in Hawaii and around the world? It is estimated that solving the water crisis would cost $10 billion. The price that bottling companies pocket in revenue is $13 billion. We cannot think for one second that Hawaii has nothing to do with perpetuating a crisis.

Plastic bottles also do not biodegrade. The bottled water industry generates as much as 1.5 million pounds of bottles per year and only 13 percent of plastic bottles are actually recycled after being discarded. The rest go to landfills, where they can leach toxic chemicals into the land.

Or better yet, they end up in the ocean: Marine plastic pollution has impacted at least 267 species worldwide, including 86 percent of all sea turtle species, 44 percent of all seabird species and 43 percent of all marine mammal species. Since Hawaii depends on the environment, including the vitality of our marine life, it is incredibly important for us to not turn our islands into a giant, lifeless trash heap. After all, would tourists or even the film industry pay to experience Hawaii’s dead monk seals and turtles?

In addition, though bottling companies can contribute jobs to a neighborhood, when the profit-driven interests of a corporation conflict with the interests of a local community or ecosystem, it is rarely the latter that benefit. Most often, local communities and watersheds are left to deal with negative externalities when bottling companies decide to turn a blind eye.

For example, our state is currently in a period of drought and has just recently bounced back from a period of severe to extreme drought just last year. Given intensifying global warming, it is not prudent to be unscrupulously drawing upon water sources for jobs and capital accumulation. In the end, the communities will be the ones literally left in the dried up dust while bottling corporations’ wallets are lush with green Benjamins.

Bottled water is no environmentally friendly product. It is a prime example of greenwashing, which is an attempt to do ethically or environmentally what should not be done at all. Under General Comment 15 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, governments have a responsibility to ensure that its citizens not only have access to but also actually have clean and affordable tap water in accordance with their right to life.

The residents of Hawaii, like those of San Francisco and Concord, Massachusetts, need to take back the tap and push Hawaii lawmakers to wake up to the dirty truth that is Hawaii’s bottled water industry.

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