Monday, January 19, 2009

What is the closest substitute for bottled water?

A friend at another university tells me that his school is banning the sale of bottled water on campus, as the university administration is bothered by the pollution produced by plastic water bottles.

Presumably, they figure that bottled-water consumers will switch to tap water, as tap water is bottled water’s closest substitute. I wonder — aren’t bottled soft drinks a closer substitute? Don’t people want the convenience of a container at their desk rather than an occasional drink at the water cooler (or a cup to be filled at the water cooler)?

This ban may well simply lead to substitution from bottled water to bottled soft drinks, with no reduction in pollution. Worse still, people will be substituting caloric soft drinks for zero-calorie water, so that the ban will help increase obesity among students and staff.
--Daniel Hamermesh, Freakonomics blog, on the small fraction of bottled water's utility that is the water itself

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