You probably heard that there’s a drought in California.
You might have heard that food and beverage mega-corporation Nestlé (as well as lots of other companies) is bottling water in the drought in California.
This is not Nestlé’s fault. This is your fault.
At least, that’s what Nestlé International Waters’ CEO seemed to be saying in an interview with Southern California Public Radio this week.
“If I stop bottling water tomorrow, people would buy another brand of bottled water,” Tim Brown said. “It’s driven by consumer demand, it’s driven by an on-the-go society that needs to hydrate.”
Nestlé came under attack last month, when it was revealed that the company has been bottling water from the San Bernardino National Forest under an expired permit for the past 25 years. The company has repeatedly said that its expired permit with the National Forest Service remains in good standing.
“We feel good about what we’re doing,” Brown said. “In fact, if I could increase it, I would.”
The interview was part of what seems like a bigger push by Nestlé against the idea that its business practices are related to California’s drought.
In an op-ed titled “Nestlé Waters: Bottled water is not contributing to California’s drought,” published by the San Bernardino County Sun in April, Brown wrote, “Experts on water use who have studied the issue have recognized, however, that bottled water is not a contributing factor to the drought.”
Nestlé announced this week that a milk-bottling plant in California will go “zero-water,” saving 63 million gallons of water each year. It is also changing systems at some of its ice cream and water-bottling facilities to increase efficiency. “We have to look at design and how we touch water in a water-scarce environment,” Brown said.
Nestlé is not the only company coming under fire for bottling water in California. A recent investigation by Mother Jones magazine found that Ethos — the Starbucks-owned water brand created “to help fix the global water crisis” — was making a lot of money taking water out of one California county. In response, the company said it would move its sourcing and manufacturing to Pennsylvania.
California’s historic drought is affecting a range of industries. The oil and gas industry has come under fire for questionable waste water practices. Residents have been asked to cut back, and celebrities have been shamed for having too-green lawns. Meanwhile, 80 percent of California’s water is used in the agricultural industry.
Nestlé’s bottled water production in California uses about 700 million gallons a year, according to Brown.
But not all of that makes it to the consumer, and that is one reason bottled water is such a problem. It takes 30 to 50 percent more water to bottle water than just to drink it out of the tap, said Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor of Earth System Science at UC Irvine, who also spoke on the radio program. He also said that ecological studies on the impact of bottling water out of the San Bernardino National Forest have never been done.
“We have a human behavior problem,” he said. “We need to shift people away from bottled water… we need to get back to filling up a glass, filling up a reusable bottle, and using tap water.”