June 9: bottled water

I remember when I first went to France in the early eighties and noting the use of bottled water (Evian; Perrier; Vichy). In the UK I hadn’t really noticed people drinking bottled water rather than tap water. Gradually, of course, it became pervasive. Tap water is cheaper (two thousand times cheaper, it has been estimated); healthier (there are more health tests on tap water than on bottled water); less polluting (the fuss about plastic straws pales into insignificance next to the the mountains of plastic bottles). In fact, the industry of bottled water must be a classic case of how to create demand out of nothing. It is like selling air to hikers in a forest. Once, when I was going round businesses asking for old cardboard boxes to help me move house I inadvertently went ino a cardboard box seller; they thought it was a rather dull practical joke. Now the small bottle of water has become a fetish, like the phone, or the cigarette to smokers. It is the object that transmits your nervousness or anxiety. You can shake it, squash it (creating that familiar and ennervating scruching sound), hold it in any number of fun ways. In fact, there are any number of ways through which you can annoy people in cinemas, theatres, concerts, exams. And yet, the pervasive signifier of the bottle of water retains its virtue. It pollutes and impoverishes, and yet because of big business it triumphs. The business of water was solved at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century in the UK, most of Western Europe and the US. Pipes were put in homes and businesses and directed through plentiful taps. It was practically free. This means little in the face of a few images of teenage models having fun in Switzerland with handy bottles.


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