State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Beat the Heat, but with Bottled Water?

As temperatures in the Northeast finally begin to ease, we can assess the first heat wave of summer 2010.  Here in New York, there was remarkably little drama.  Through herculean efforts, ConEd was able to avoid any serious blackouts or brownouts, and thankfully, there were no health emergencies.

Neither were there any major heat-induced public safety disasters.

One thing there was plenty of though was bottled water.  During the last few days, when temperatures topped out at 100 F, you couldn’t walk down a Manhattan block without bumping into someone hawking an ice cold bottle of water.  Every street vendor worth their permit – and quite a few who probably had no idea that street sails require a permit – was out there in the heat doing a brisk trade.

Vendor in Central Park:


And I admit it, I was one of the customers.  On Sunday afternoon, when I was headed across town, I caved and bought a deliciously cool bottle of Poland Spring.  No sooner had I forked over my $2 (!) when someone else behind me came up and made the same purchase.  In the space of 10 minutes, at least 5-10 bottles must have been sold.  Multiply this by thousands of vendors, over several days, and you have a huge quantity of water.

The point?  For all we demonize bottled water, it’s incredibly hard to avoid.  In my case, I could have (and should have) planned better, filling my reusable bottle before I left the house on such a hot day.

But I’m pretty aware of this stuff, and spend a lot of time thinking about water and environmental issues.  I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect most people to pack water on hot days just to avoid buying the plastic bottles.   A huge benefit of bottled water is that it’s so convenient.

To really counter its dominance , we need to make tap water equally convenient.  In this case, that means water fountains, or other publicly available taps, which are clean, reliable and accessible.  These could be provided for a fraction of the per-unit cost of bottled water, and would provide a reasonable alternative.   In the absence of options like this, when it comes to convenience, bottled water will always win out.

Water fountain for humans and pets in Central Park:


In the past few years, there’s been some real momentum behind anti-bottled water protests, leading to its removal from high-end restaurants and even certain delis and grocery stores.  The “ad-hoc” bottled water market though, on streets – at sporting events and in other public places – is still going strong, as this most recent run of high temperature clearly demonstrated.  It would be great to turn up the heat on this side of the business too.

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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13 years ago

If you folks at Columbia want to explore this issue you should start with your own purchasing practices and stop buying bottled water for events when tap water is readily accessible. I’ve attended numerous water-related events there where bottled water was served. Physician heal thyself.

Julia Apland Hitz
13 years ago

I tend to think that if bottled water weren’t available to buy, after forgetting to bring their own bottle a few times people would adjust. That is, as you say, if there are convenient places to refill them.

13 years ago

By buying bottled water, I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation. So I am not sure what you are doing blogging here on water, or perhaps that is what this whole Columbia blog is about? An academic foray? Preach all you want, and practice something very different, eh?

Pump Suppliers
13 years ago

What makes you easy in heat while you get thirsty? Is it not easy to find the bottled of water or you feel better to take the boiled water ? which is more time consumable.