IBWA Supports National Drinking Water Week And Corrects Erroneous NAWC Press Release Knocking Bottled Water

International Bottled Water Association | NEWS RELEASE | May 3, 2011

IBWA Supports National Drinking Water Week And Corrects
Erroneous NAWC Press Release Knocking Bottled Water


Alexandria, VA – The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) supports the annual “National Drinking Water Week” and notes that bottled water is a safe, healthy and convenient packaged food product used for human hydration. Whether bottling spring water from protected underground aquifers or producing high-quality purified bottled water from a municipal source, America’s bottled water companies consistently meet consumer demand for safe, quality drinking water at home, at work, on the go, and when emergencies and natural disasters strike. IBWA also recognizes the important role that municipal water systems play in modern society’s pressing need for sanitation, irrigation and human hydration.

This week, the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) issued a press release that contains several false claims about bottled water. NAWC’s unfounded, unnecessary and tangential attack on bottled water products is contrary to the important goals of National Drinking Water Week, and appear to be an attempt to deflect public and media focus from the very real problems facing many municipal water systems today. Provided below are the facts:

NAWC’s claim that tap water standards “often exceed” bottled water standards is without foundation. Bottled water is comprehensively regulated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) (21 U.S.C. §§ 301 et seq.) and several parts of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Section 410 of FFDCA requires that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) bottled water regulations be as protective of the public health as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) tap water standards.

Bottled water products – whether from groundwater or public water sources – are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach. From source to finished product, a multi-barrier approach helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, ultraviolet (UV) light or other safe and effective methods. Many of the steps in a multi-barrier system may be effective in safeguarding bottled water from microbiological and other contamination.

FDA has issued comprehensive bottled water Standards of Identity, which provide uniform requirements and definitions for the following bottled water classifications: bottled, drinking, artesian, groundwater, distilled, deionized, reverse osmosis, mineral, purified, sparkling, spring, sterile, and well water. (21 C.F.R. § 165.110 (a)) FDA has also established bottled water Standards of Quality for more than 90 substances. (21 C.F.R. § 165.110 (b)).

Tom Lauria notes: “This is not a tap water verses bottled water issue. Most people who drink bottled water also drink tap water, depending on the circumstances. Consumers choose bottled water for several reasons, including safety, quality, taste and convenience. Bottled water is also an alternative to other packaged beverages when consumers want to eliminate or moderate calories, caffeine, sugar, artificial flavors or colors, alcohol and other ingredients from their diets. At a time when obesity, diabetes and heart disease are so prevalent, the consumption of water, whether from the bottle or the tap, is a good thing, and any actions (such as the NAWC press release) that discourage people from drinking bottled water are not in the public interest.”

In the United States, both bottled water and tap water are heavily regulated, tested for quality and considered safe to drink. The decision to choose one over another largely depends on an individual’s tastes or need for convenience. As with many foods, water –whether tap or bottled — tastes differently to different people. Some people are discerning about the source of their water, while others prefer not to have the odor and taste of chlorine. And then there are those who can’t tell the difference between any of the waters available to them.

“If the purpose of National Drinking Water Week is to recognize the importance of safe drinking water, then bottled water should be recognized, not denounced, for the important contribution it makes,” according to Tom Lauria.

In a hearing before the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, an FDA official testified in July 2009 that “the agency is aware of no major outbreaks of illness or serious safety concerns associated with bottled water in the past decade.” At that same hearing, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) made public its report on bottled water, which found that based on a survey of water quality and health protection officials in all 50 states and the District of Columbia there was no evidence that bottled water caused any illnesses during the previous five years. (See United States Government Accountability Office Report on Bottled Water, GAO-09-610, June 2009.) In contrast, EPA scientists and researchers have estimated that tap water consumption is the cause of over 16 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illness (vomiting/diarrhea) in the United States each year (Messner M., et al., Journal of Water and Health, 2006; 4(Suppl 2):201-40).

As for the environmental impact of plastic bottles, which are ubiquitous in modern society, bottled water companies have for many years been taking actions to reduce their environmental footprint. For example, the bottled water industry is using much lighter weight plastics for its containers. Over the past eight years the gram weight of the 16.9 ounce “single serve” PET bottled water container has dropped by 32.6%. The average PET bottled water container weighed 18.9 grams in 2000 and by 2008 the average amount of PET resin in each bottle has declined to 12.7 grams. The Beverage Marketing Corporation estimates that during this time span, more than 1.3 billion grams of PET resin have been saved by the bottled water industry through container light-weighting. In the past six years, the recycle rate for bottled water containers has leaped from 16% to 31% and is trending upward as consumer support for single-stream curbside recycling programs and innovative public space recycling catch on.

“According to the NAWC press release, ’85 percent’ of plastic bottles end up in landfills,” noted Tom Lauria, IBWA’s Vice President of Communications, “but that’s flat-out wrong. The recycling rate for PET bottles is a record-high 31% and growing every year.”

The bottled water industry is also developing new technologies in product packaging, such as the use of recycled content, biodegradable and compostable materials, and is utilizing more fuel efficient means of transportation.

Bottled water is just one of thousands of food and beverage products packaged in plastic containers. While the bottled water industry supports effective environmental conservation policies, we strongly believe that any efforts to reduce the environmental impact of packaging must focus on all consumer goods and not target any one industry as the NAWC press release does. According to EPA, bottled water containers make up just one-third of one percent of the entire waste stream. Therefore, any proposed solutions to the final disposal of plastic containers must cover all consumer products or they will be ineffective in dealing with the comprehensive environmental issue.

In closing, the bottled water industry supports a strong and adequately funded municipal water infrastructure. Nearly all U.S. consumers and industries rely on tap water, and every taxpayer and every industry must help ensure that supplies of water from municipal systems are safe and plentiful in the years ahead. “As a large municipal water rate-payer, the bottled water industry supports the continued improvement of our public water utilities,” Lauria concluded “We would recommend that NAWC cease their unfounded, unwarranted and unnecessary condemnation of safe, healthy bottled water products and focus instead on the enormous challenge they face in meeting the municipal water needs of the future.”

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The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is the authoritative source of information about all types of bottled waters, including spring, mineral, purified, artesian, and sparkling. Founded in 1958, IBWA’s membership includes U.S. and international bottlers, distributors and suppliers. IBWA is committed to working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water as a packaged food product, to set comprehensive and stringent standards for safe, high-quality bottled water products.  

In addition to FDA regulations, IBWA member bottlers must adhere to the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice, which mandates additional standards and practices that in some cases are more stringent than federal and state regulations. A key feature of the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice is a mandatory annual plant inspection by an independent, third-party organization.  

IBWA is proud to be a partner with Keep America Beautiful and a supporter of Drink Up, an initiative of former First Lady Michelle Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), which encourages Americans to drink more water more often – whether from the tap, a filter, or in a bottle. Choosing water is always the healthy choice.