In tiny Beaver, Utah – aside the I-15 and just south of the I-70 juncture, you’ll find a Chevron gas station (still) offering full-service at the pumps. Well, sort of full-service. You fill your own tank, and as soon as you do, the attendant comes over and cleans your windshield. He also checks under the hood. When all’s said and done, he doesn’t charge you extra nor will he accept a tip. It’s a nice throwback to a time when self-service was the exception. But these days we do just about everything for ourselves, don’t we? Including bottling our own water.
I have to admit; this is a new one on me: filling my own water bottle from a public dispenser. Sure, I already know the drill at the gym (just before I navigate the zoo of torturous cardio equipment). My gym’s water machine beckons me to place my bottle under the spout, auto-fills to within an inch of the top, then magically shuts off before overflowing. There’s even a digital counter tracking how many plastic water bottles we avoid in the process. Last I checked, my gym’s counter was into the several hundred-thousands.
Just this week – the “new one on me” – I noticed the same setup in the airport boarding lounge in Los Angeles. Two self-service machines are built into the wall adjacent to the restrooms. In the short time before my flight, at least three dozen people lined up and filled up, as if they’d been doing this for years. I earn the old-timer label for thinking there should’ve been a drinking fountain on the wall instead. Or a pay phone.
Like the full-service treatment in Beaver, Utah, self-service water dispensers are free of charge. But that’s about to change, if you believe a recent Wall Street Journal article. The water products of Coca-Cola (Dasani, Smartwater, Vitaminwater) or Pepsi (Aquafina, Life Water, Evian) may be your thing, and you’re about to get them – for a price – through self-service water dispensers. For a little more cost, you can even carbonate your water or add fruit flavoring. Safe to say, “plain water” (i.e. the brand-less, cost-less, out-of-the-tap option) may soon be hard to find in public places.
Now then, the facts. Water is consumed by the (plastic) bottle more than any other beverage except soda. America alone accounts for 42.6 billion bottles a year (the world: 200 billion bottles). That spills to thirty-two gallons/person/year. The cost? $100/person/year. You forgot that line item in your personal budget. Put it just below the cost of your Starbucks habit.
Here’s another breakdown of the beverage. Americans consume 2.2 million bottles of water every day, or 90,000 every hour, or 1,500 every minute. No wonder proprietary self-service machines are the latest trend in airports (and just about every other place where people gather). There’s a serious market for brand-name H20, and the manufacturers know today’s eco-friendly consumers prefer to drink from their own bottles.
[Nagging Thought for the Day: There are more than 125 brands of bottled water across the globe; 125 unique recipes for a drink with essentially two ingredients. What makes one different or better than the next? For that matter, with reasonable filtering, what makes one different from the fill you can get from your taps at home?]
I wish I’d thought of self-service water dispensers myself (I also wish I’d “invented” bottled water). I’d be drinking in the riches. These days, “dispensed” water is psychologically preferable to “tap” water, even though some calculations put it 2,000 times more expensive. Are we just suckers for brand names? Hey, maybe I’ll invent brand-name oxygen. Oh wait – that ship already sailed…
Here’s one more stat to quench your data thirst. The most expensive of those brand-name waters – Acqua di Cristallo – costs $60,000 a bottle. The elixir (“water” doesn’t sound rich enough), is sourced from France and Fiji, comes in a 24-karat solid gold bottle, and contains a small sprinkling of gold dust. Acqua di Cristallo might as well be advertised as a panacea.
Lucky for you, maybe one day Acqua di Cristallo will be offered through public self-service dispensers. Might want to call your credit card company and increase your limit.
Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Coke and Pepsi Want to Sell You Bottled Water Without The Bottle”, and the CreditDonkey article, “Bottled Water Statistics: 23 Outrageous Facts”.