Drinking fountain and sign at the University of Montana

The United States still seems big when I travel thousands of miles from Connecticut. Here in this photograph a sensibility I don’t see in Connecticut greets everyone headed to the rest rooms of the University of Montana’s student center. The Society of Environmental Journalists held most of its conference events in this building from October 13-17, 2010. I had three days to think about what went into posting this sign.

Perhaps 13 years ago I wrote my first article for The Day (in New London, Connecticut) comparing the quality of water from a municipal system to bottled water and found the two nearly identical. The bottled water craze lasted longer than I thought it would. Most people already know that tap water is more highly regulated than bottled water in the United States. Here are some other statistics I dug up not long ago. Much of this information was part of an exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.

Americans spend more than $10,000 a minute for bottled water.

Manufacturing water bottles uses twice as much water as they hold.

The oil necessary to make, transport, and discard them is equivalent to filling the plastic bottle one-quarter full of oil.

The average price of tap water in the United States is less than 1 cent per gallon.

The average price of bottled water in the United States is about $10 a gallon. But we pay much less than some other countries. See Peter Gleick’s statistics.(And, of course, in some places, bottled water is a matter of health. Not here in the U.S.)

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