Unpacking Big Water’s Plastic Bag of Tricks

“Shame! Shame! Shame!” chants Septa Unella, a character in HBO’s Game of Thrones, as she follows a bewildered production assistant through a supermarket. When the assistant reaches the hit TV show’s set, grasping his newly purchased cases of sparkling water, the reason for his “shame” is revealed. In the new ad campaign “Shame or Glory,” SodaStream encourages us to ditch our single-use plastic water bottles in favor of tap water—and the company’s home carbonation device, should we desire some sparkling.

SodaStream’s video reached over 20 million views within a week of its launch. But its success has drawn the ire of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), an industry lobbying group whose members include some of the largest beverage companies in the world, including Nestlé Waters.

In a letter to SodaStream’s CEO, the IBWA accuses the company of making “false, misleading, and disparaging statements about bottled water.” Unsurprisingly, the IBWA “strongly objects to these statements” and demands SodaStream to cease and desist showing the video on the internet or other media.

That’s why we think it’s important to share it as much as possible:

Broadcasting the truth about all of the plastic trashing our planet is enough to get the IBWA rankled, but SodaStream’s response hits the mark.

“We will not let the IBWA’s threats stop us from trying to save the planet. The IBWA, a front for major plastic manufactures like Nestlé—the world’s largest producer of bottled water—is nothing more than an elite group of like-minded corporate sponsors who prioritize their own profits over the care of our planet…We will not be gagged and we will not be silenced.”

IBWA’s cease and desist letter is a classic play out of the bottled water industry’s playbook, and we’ve seen it time and time again. [See nearly identical claims filed against Zero Water Technologies, Corporate Accountability International, and Eco Canteen.]

First, they disparage tap water, claiming tap “usually contains chlorine and may also contain lead, ammonia, mercury, and other harmful substances” as opposed to bottled water products, which “are sourced from protected underground aquifers and must meet strict government regulations.”

In reality, tap water in the United States is some of the safest and healthiest water in the world.

Next, they make claims about the natural purity of their water. But in truth, about 45 percent of bottled water actually comes from—wait for it!—municipal water supplies! That’s right, water bottling companies simply take clean tap water, re-treat it, and put it in a plastic bottle to sell at your local grocery store—to the tune of $14.2 billion profit in 2015 alone.

Finally, when push comes to shove, the bottled water industry fights like heck.

Earlier this year, activists in Hood River County, Oregon passed a ballot initiative outlawing commercial-scale water bottling in their county after Nestlé tried to build a new bottling plant. At first, Nestlé said it would respect the will of voters, but then it refused to back down. Now barred by law, the company is trying again on the other side of the Columbia River Gorge. Another fight is brewing in Michigan as Nestlé prepares to conduct a major expansion of its bottling plant in Mecosta County and increase its water draw to 400 gallons per minute.

And in 2015, campaign contributions by the IBWA to members of Congress led to the introduction of an amendment to an Interior Appropriations bill that would have made it illegal for the National Parks Service to create or enforce bans on the sale of bottled water in national parks. Doing so would have undermined years of work by the parks to reduce plastic waste and meet their sustainability goals.

So whether it’s attacking companies like SodaStream or buying out politicians, the IBWA has one goal in mind: profit. Bullying people working to protect the planet and public water may be all in a day’s work, but that doesn’t mean we’ll allow their intimidation tactics to silence our voices.

Here’s what you can do today:

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