IMPACT
01/10/2019 12:03 am ET Updated Jan 10, 2019

Fawning Over 'Fiji Water Girl' Ignores The Evils Of Bottled Water

We laughed at the memes, but we missed an opportunity to talk about something more important.

While the Internet fawned over Fiji Water Girl, one of the models hired to pass out bottled drinks and photobomb celebrities as they vogued on the red carpet at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, it made very little noise about the evils of bottled water — and the Fiji Water brand in particular.

First, let’s talk about how dumb and wasteful it is to transport bottled water halfway across the world. Fiji Water really does come from Fiji, a country in the South Pacific Ocean, which is far if you live in the United States.

“Fiji Water, really more than any other bottled water, travels a vast distance to get from Fiji to wherever it’s consumed,” Peter H. Gleick, co-founder and president emeritus of The Pacific Institute, told HuffPost. “It’s shipped in cargo ships, and that’s a very energy-intensive process.”

There’s nothing particularly special about bottled water from Fiji, you must know. “The only really unique thing about Fiji is its distance,” said Gleick, adding that the company has “one of the largest carbon footprints in the world” among water bottle companies.

Model Kelleth Cuthbert became known as Fiji Water Girl after her expert photobombing at the Golden Globes took Twitter by sto
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Fiji Water
Model Kelleth Cuthbert became known as Fiji Water Girl after her expert photobombing at the Golden Globes took Twitter by storm. Here she shares a shot with Richard Madden.

Bottled water is bottled water, and there is truly no benefit to one brand over another, the scientist continued. “There are subtle differences in the mineral content of bottled water that simply affects what it tastes like.” But there are no health benefits gained from drinking certain kinds.

Fiji has made itself attractive and elite through branding alone — and it’s done a heck of a job. “Every bottled water company wants to brand their water as unique and special because the truth is no bottled water is unique or special,” said Gleick,author of The World’s Water, Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.

In 2007, Fiji launched a “carbon negative” campaign, in which it said it would offset more greenhouse gas emissions than were released by the company’s operations and products. About four years later, the company was sued for mischaracterizing its green practices in an effort to appeal to consumers.

It’s incredibly difficult to find transparency in Fiji’s current practices relating to the environment. HuffPost has reached out to the brand for more information.

The carbon cost of any bottled water is associated with how much energy it takes to bottle and ship your product,” Gleick said. “The big costs are the plastic, which has a very high carbon footprint, and then the transportation. The farther you have to move water, and water’s heavy, the more energy it takes.”

While there’s no clear information around Fiji’s carbon practices, Gleick said it’s a good thing if Fiji is trying to understand its impact and offset it.

“If Fiji Water has accurately calculated its carbon footprint and properly offsets its carbon footprint, I would say they deserve credit for that.”

While HuffPost waits for more information from the brand, Gleick added that if Fiji was making waves in its offset goals, he’d assume the company would proudly display it on its media pages.

Next, let’s talk about how superfluous bottled water can be.

Americans spent $18.5 billion on bottled water in 2017. In most parts of the United States, tap water is just as safe as bottled water. There are, of course, cities where the water is not safe to drink, and those residents may need to rely on boiling water or buying bottled. In addition, some people are more vulnerable to water contaminants than others, and these individuals may need to boil tap water or rely on bottled water for their safety, as the Mayo Clinic notes. However, if you’re a person with access to clean and safe drinking water, bottled water isn’t necessary. 

Another problem with bottled water is the trash it generates, trash that pollutes our oceans and litters beaches. Plastic bottles are the fourth most common item plaguing our waterways, Beth Porter told HuffPost. Porter, the climate and recycling director of Green America, is the author of Reduce, Reuse, Reimagine: Sorting Out the Recycling System. This garbage doesn’t just make for an ugly beach day, it also can harm marine life and pollute the water.

And do you know what’s inside those water bottles? New research from the World Health Organization found that 90 percent of the most popular bottled water brands were contaminated with microplastics — minuscule particles of plastic whose effect on human health is under-researched.

While microplastics have also been found in tap water, bottled water was found to contain twice the amount, The Guardian reported.

Microplastic has been documented as harmful — and sometimes fatal — to marine life, but its effects on human health are still being explored. Some plastics contain chemicals considered to be endocrine disruptors, according to National Geographic, which means they can mess with hormones and even contribute to weight gain.

And, finally, manufacturing water bottles wastes water and other resources — immensely. According to The Pacific Institute, it takes approximately 3 liters of water to produce one bottle of water. What? The publication also estimates that more than 17 million barrels of oil were required to produce the number of water bottles Americans bought in 2006. This does not include the oil necessary for transportation of the water bottles.

This story is part of a series on plastic waste, funded by SC Johnson. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the company.

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