COLUMBUS, Ohio - Sales are skyrocketing for the bottled-water industry, but what are companies actually selling to customers? In its new report "Take Back the Tap," Food and Water Watch researchers look at the booming business of bottled water, which surpassed soda in sales in 2016.
The group finds nearly 64 percent of bottled water comes from municipal taps and that it cost almost 2,000 times as much as tap water and four times as much as gasoline.
Patty Lovera, the policy director of Food and Water Watch, says bottled-water companies target demographics through advertising, especially immigrant communities.
"It is much more the norm in other countries where you have to go buy bottled water because the safety systems aren't there for tap water," she says. "That's not the case in most American cities. That's pretty predatory to convince people they need to keep spending their hard-earned money to do that, and undermining people's confidence in tap water."
Bottled-water companies contend their water is safer. The report also found about 70 percent of bottles aren't recycled and that four billion pounds of plastic were used to produce bottles in 2016. That's enough to fill the Empire State Building one-point-three times.
Lovera says even though most tap-water systems are safe, the country's water infrastructure is in need of maintenance, especially in places such as Flint, Michigan, and that federal funding is the best avenue for those projects. But she adds it can be difficult to get support for this idea.
"It's hard to build that political will if people think that you buy water at the grocery store and you just have to go take care of it that way," she explains. "We kind of undermine this sense of ownership and accountability for having a tap-water system that works for everybody."
The bottled-water industry has spent millions lobbying the U.S. Congress and federal regulators. From 2014 to 2016, the industry spent nearly $29 million on in-house and hired lobbyists.