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Big Business, Local Springs, and the Battle over America's Drinking Water

Elizabeth Royte

Bloomsbury USA

Bottlemania Download image

ISBN10: 159691372X
ISBN13: 9781596913721


272 Pages



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One of Entertainment Weekly's 10 Best Nonfiction Books of the Year
A Seed Magazine Best Book of the Year

Having already surpassed milk and beer, and second now only to soda, bottled water is on the verge of becoming the most popular beverage in the country. The brands have become so ubiquitous that consumers are hardly conscious that Poland Spring and Evian were once real springs in remote corners of Maine and France. Only now, with the water industry trading in the billions of dollars, has the public begun to question what it is they are drinking and why.

In this intelligent, eye-opening narrative, Elizabeth Royte does for water what Eric Schlosser did for fast food: she finds the people, machines, economies, and cultural trends that bring it from nature to our supermarkets. Along the way, she investigates the questions that bottled water drinkers must inevitably answer about ownership rights to water and water sources, the implications and ramifications of paying for water, the safety of bottled water and the chemicals used to purify it. And, as environmental issues become more and more important, Royte looks at the environmental costs of making, transporting, and disposing of all those plastic bottles.

An incisive, intrepid, and habit-changing chronicle of the commercialization of our most basic human need, Bottlemania is also a powerful environmental wake-up call.


Praise for Bottlemania

"Fascinating . . . look at the water wars: between bottled water and tap water, between big corporations and local water interests, between consumers who say they want the convenience, cleanliness and even status of bottled water, and environmentalists who condemn bottled water as 'the moral equivalent of driving a Hummer,' producing tons of plastic bottles, racking up huge transportation fees and leaving behind a significant carbon footprint."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Why did Americans spend nearly $11 billion on bottled water in 2006, when we could have guzzled tap water at up to about one ten-thousandth the cost? The facile answer is marketing, marketing and more marketing, but Elizabeth Royte goes much deeper into the drink in Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It, streaming trends cultural, economic, political and hydrological into an engaging investigation of an unexpectedly murky substance. Partway through her undoctrinaire book, Royte, a lifelong fan of tap water, refills her old plastic water bottle, reflecting that 'what once seemed so simple and natural, a drink of water, is neither' . . . by the end of the book she will have discarded the old plastic bottle too, but not the tap. Bottlemania is an easy-to-swallow survey of the subject from verdant springs in the Maine woods to tap water treatment plants in Kansas City; from the grand specter of worldwide water wars, to the microscopic crustaceans called copepods, [present] in New York's tap water."—Lisa Margonelli, author of Oil on the Brain: Petroleum's Long Strange Trip to Your Tank, in The New York Times Book Review

"Ingenious . . . Amiably, without haranguing or hyperventilating, this veteran environmental writer has produced what could be, assuming enough people read it, one of the year's most influential books."—The Boston Globe

"A well-balanced, interesting and instructive book about our fundamental human need to drink water."—Chicago Sun-Times

"Could be as influential on public sentiment as Fast Food Nation."—Financial Times

"At a time of climate change and increasing risks to global water supplies, we must change the way we think about this crucial resource and begin treating it as a public good to be preserved, rather than the equivalent of an oil deposit or timber forest, ripe for corporate exploitation."—New Scientist

"An intriguing look at a totem of the ultramodern, perhaps selfish, way we live now."—Time Out Chicago

"Bottlemania makes the case that it's not in our interests to let private multinational corporations float their boats on our nation's water. That's not democracy, it's dam-ocracy, and it could damn us all if we let their unquenchable thirst for profit take precedence over our right to clean, safe, free drinking water."—Kerry Trueman, The Huffington Post

"An intrepid, intelligent analysis of Americans' raging thirst for bottled water."—BookPage

"An essential, if somewhat disturbing, read."—Very Short List

"A breezy, accessible history of water through the ages . . . a good account of the tensions in the little town of Fryeburg, Maine."—New York Post

"A sharp indictment of the bottled-water industry."—New York Observer

"Bottlemania is eye-opening and informative; you will never look at water—either 'designer' or tap—in quite the same way. Royte demonstrates how everything is, in the end, truly connected."—Elizabeth Kolbert

"Royte traces bottled-water production and the origins of other sources of potable water. The author begins in Fryeburg, Maine, where citizens are engaged in a battle with Poland Spring over the company's water-bottling practices. Such battles are being fought across the country, many against Nestle (which also owns Deer Park, Ice Mountain and others), Coca-Cola (Dasani) and Pepsi (Aquafina). The demand is increasing rapidly, argue the corporations, and they have a point: In the period between 1997 and 2006, sales jumped from $4 billion to $10.8 billion. But don't make that argument to Howard Dearborn, an 81-year-old resident of Fryeburg who insists that Poland Spring's drilling is ruining his lake by its continuous pumping from the underground spring that feeds it. Not to mention the environmental detriment of producing and shipping all that water: In fact, the author notes, 'on average, only 60 to 70 percent of the water used by bottling plants ends up on supermarket shelves: the rest is waste.' The saga in Maine provides the central narrative and theme—the question of whether water should be a commodity to be bought and sold—but Royte also examines the journey of tap water, revealing the contents and relative quality of various municipal supplies across the country, including New York City and Kansas City, 'where the public utility sucks from the Missouri River something that resembles chocolate Yoo-Hoo and turns it into water so good that national magazines shower it with awards and even the locals buy it in bottles.' Those readers with weak stomachs may cringe at the author's descriptions of some of the water-filtration processes—and the many chemicals, bacteria and other nasties the process supposedly filters out—but Royte deserves credit for her tenacity and well-balanced approach. Though she personally chooses not to support the bottled-water industry, she shines just as bright a light on the problems with tap-water production. She even gives voice to 'bottled-water expert' Michael Mascha, who enjoys, among others, 'Bling—which comes in a corked bottle decorated with Swarovski crystals.' A helpful appendix follows the text."—Kirkus Reviews

"Water. It's the essence of life, the main component of our bodies and our planet. It's free and seemingly accessible—yet millions of Americans pay for bottles of it every day. Environmental author Royte discusses the historical, political, environmental, moral, and even culinary aspects of water. In a journalistic and often humorous manner, she recounts her travels to natural springs and the towns torn apart by their presence and her meetings with water executives and hydrogeologists while discussing the modern implications of the bottle vs. the tap. The story that emerges is an interesting one—there are enough backroom deals to make the plot seem fitting of the film Michael Clayton. Readers will be surprised at the many facets of the story of bottled water, and the blend of narrative with historical fact keeps the book compelling and dynamic. For those inspired to find out more about their water, Royte includes an appendix of Internet resources and a selected bibliography for further reading. Recommended for all public libraries and academic libraries with environmental science programs."—Jaime Hammond, Library Journal

"Royte plunges into America's mighty thirst for bottled water in an investigation of 'one of the greatest marketing coups of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.' As tap water has become cleaner and better-tasting, the bottled water industry has exploded into a $60 billion business; consumers guzzle more high-priced designer water than milk or beer and spend billions on brands such as Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani that are essentially processed municipal water. It's an unparalleled—and almost exclusively American—'social phenomenon' . . . Royte chronicles the questionable practices of Nestle-owned Poland Springs and documents the environmental impact of discarded plastic bottles, the carbon footprint of water shipped long distances and health concerns around the leaching of plastic compounds from bottles. Not all tap water is perfectly pure, writes Royte, still, 92% of the nation's 53,000 local water systems meet or exceed federal safety standards and 'it is the devil we know,' at least as good and often better than bottled water. This portrait of the science, commerce and politics of potable water is an entertaining and eye-opening narrative."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Elizabeth Royte

Elizabeth Royte has written for the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, National Geographic, Outside, Smithsonian, and The New Yorker. She is the author of Garbage Land and The Tapir's Morning Bath.