When people ask me about my research on the politics of bottled water, oftentimes they will inquire about ways in which they can alter their specific habits in order to minimize packaged water intake. As I take a trip frequently for research study and conferences, I have actually been realizing that there are numerous structural barriers to lowering bottled water usage. That is, no matter just how much we “activate” social norms and encourage people to shift intake from water in a bottle to water from the tap, there are structural barriers that posit an obstacle for anyone to alter their own habits. I will keep in mind two barriers in this post, particularly.
The very first one I saw is the lack of facilities for refillable water bottles. This absence of refilling stations is likewise frequently coupled with an overall failure in offering water fountains. I have seen this at airports all over, but Mexico particularly. This is quite bothersome given that Mexico is the top-ranked country in the world for per-capita consumption of bottled water. It is also one of the countries where bottled water companies are raking huge earnings. Ironically, this issue (doing not have water fountains and filling up stations) is not only present in airports, however also at schools (where we can often see young kids rush to buy soft drinks) and local parks. My own research study has confirmed what other authors have stated: much of the rise in mineral water intake can be traced to a lack of trust in tap water. This problem is also compounded by current municipal water utility breakdowns, like the case of Flint, in Michigan. My buddy, coauthor and water governance specialist Oriol Mirosa (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) makes an exceptional case for why this is happening.
Mineral water as a public law issue is not only a case of governments requiring to react to the increased commodification of the human right to water, but likewise a case of developing policy interventions that can lead to an actual real improvement in the face of intense water deficiency scenarios. The second structural barrier I have experienced in my experience doing fieldwork is intensified by the first one: regulative structures that avoid the travel and reuse of water bottles. This is extremely specific to airports, where you can’t get a bottle of water through security (and for that reason you require to either empty it or dispose of it). This is compounded by the truth that, if you have a refillable bottle you would require to empty it before going through security at the airport. If there is no facilities to refill your bottle, you’re basically out of luck and you MUST acquire a bottle of water.
Lately, I have actually dealt with this 2nd structural barrier by bringing my refillable water bottle (empty) through security and then going to a coffee shop and/or dining establishment and asking if they can refill it with tap or filtered water. It’s unlikely that they will say no. However this is just an example of how we require to go beyond providing incentives to reduce specific bottled water consumption and, instead, developing structural conditions to increase faucet water consumption.
THAT is where one of the main policy challenges remains.