Marika sent me an e-mail a few days ago asking what I thought of the new Biota water, which is the first water bottled in a compostable corn-based bottle. This issue is probably moot because according to Biota’s site, the company is out of business, having been “stomped To Death By UPS Capital, A Division of United Parcel Service, one of the World’s Largest contributors to Global Warming.” However, a note at the bottom of this announcement suggests that Biota water may be granted a second life, and if not Biota, surely another company will takes its place. So I think it’s important for me to explain why I would not buy this “planet friendly” beverage which was all the rage at the 79th ACADEMY AWARDS and was even chosen as a sponsor for the Hollywood Premiere of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”
According to the company, what makes Biota so green is its bottle. It’s made from NatureWorks PLA, a plastic derived from corn. It’s compostable at high temperatures. And according to Biota, “The containers are made from corn, the contents are used by the consumer, then the container is turned into compost, to feed the corn.”
While it may be true that the container can be turned into compost, I doubt it’s feeding much of the corn. NatureWorks PLA is a joint venture between Cargill (one of the world’s largest processors of corn into such lovelies as high fructose corn syrup and other food additives that kill humans slowly, as well as corn-based feed for cattle, that kills cattle slowly since their stomachs did not evolve to process corn) and Dow Chemical (producer of fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, soil fumigants, genetically-modified seeds, and a host of other agricultural chemicals.) According to Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in this NY Times opinion piece about corn-based ethanol:
The way we grow corn in this country consumes tremendous quantities of fossil fuel. Corn receives more synthetic fertilizer than any other crop, and that fertilizer is made from fossil fuels — mostly natural gas. Corn also receives more pesticide than any other crop, and most of that pesticide is made from petroleum. To plow or disc the cornfields, plant the seed, spray the corn and harvest it takes large amounts of diesel fuel, and to dry the corn after harvest requires natural gas. So by the time your “green” raw material arrives at the ethanol plant, it is already drenched in fossil fuel. Every bushel of corn grown in America has consumed the equivalent of between a third and a half gallon of gasoline.
So right off the bat, I’m not a huge fan of NatureWorks’s corn-based plastic. But even if the bottles were made from organic corn or some other plant source, I wouldn’t buy Biota bottled water. Why? Because the company would still be using energy and resources to create packaging for something that runs cheaply and cleanly from my faucet. I live in California. Think of all the energy used not only to bottle but also to ship that water to me from Colorado. Think how much lower our impact would be on the planet if least packaging and shortest travel distances were our priorities in making purchasing decisions.
If the clean water that comes into our homes is picking up contaminants from old pipes, we can filter it at the faucet. Buying filter cartridges once or even a few times a year is going to require fewer resources than buying bottled water every day or week. And some people feel their tap water is so good they don’t need any filter at all.
And finally, aside from all the environmental issues here, I wouldn’t buy Biota or any other bottled water because, as I’ve learned from the Think Outside The Bottle Campaign, clean drinking water is a human right that should not be privatized. We need to support our local tap water. If we don’t make it a priority, our leaders will not make its quality a priority either, and our public water infrastructure will suffer.
So come on, Marika, and anyone else who hasn’t done it yet. (And by the way, I’m not picking on Marika. She makes the best cupcakes in the entire world, so I’d never do anything to make her mad!) Take the pledge! I’m going to be pounding the pavement this weekend with pledge forms for my neighbors to sign. But you can do it easily online. You’ll be glad you did!
10/26/07 Update: Here is an excellent and comprehensive article about the bottled water issue throughout the country: http://www.alternet.org/environment/65520/?page=1