Organic bottled water… really

Bottled water companies have had to get imaginative to distinguish their products from one another, because, as many watchdog groups have pointed out, all of it is pretty much just water (often filtered tap water) in a plastic bottle, and it’s often not as “pure” as tap water. That hasn’t stopped vendors from using everything from school spirit to New Age-y interpretations of quantum physics to position their products as unique.

The latest marketing trend for bottled water? Organic. Yep, that’s right. A number of companies now market “organic water.”

As publications ranging from GOOD to NPR to Ecopreneurist have pointed out recently, the label “organic water” is a chemical oxymoron. Water has no carbon molecules in it (not pure water, anyway), so “organic” is always a misnomer. Of course, these vendors aren’t trying to claim anything about the basic chemical properties of the substance. They’re just trying to communicate to potential customers that their product is “clean,” “pollutant-free,” “eco-friendly,” or even just plain old “good.” And that’s greenwash (specifically, greenwashing sin #3 – the sin of vagueness), in addition to some Orwellian watering down (if you will) of language.

Organic does have a specific meaning outside of chemistry class. It refers to agricultural products raised in a manner consistent with ecological processes and free (or largely free) of synthetic inputs. Water, even if it comes from a spring on an organic farm, or is “carbon dated at over 1,800 years old,” doesn’t meet that criteria. That’s not just my claim. The USDA specifically excludes water (as well as salt) from the ingredients that must be organic for a product to receive their designation.

If you really want water free of synthetic chemicals you don’t have to buy it in a plastic bottle that’s been shipped around the world. A good tap water filter will give you the same results, and for much cheaper.

Want to find out more about the environmental impact of bottled water? Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Bottled Water” is a good place to start…


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Image credit: Muffet at Flickr under a Creative Commons license