Within the past month, Nestlé Waters North America (Nestlé) has found itself in two federal lawsuits over potentially misleading marketing practices of its Poland Spring brand. The most recent suit, filed last week in a federal court in Maine, seeks class-action status and claims the words “100 percent natural spring water” on Poland Spring labels is untrue and deceptive.
The new complaint piggybacks on a previous lawsuit from August, which also seeks class action status, and alleges Nestlé’s marketing of the Poland Spring brand has been a “colossal fraud.” Filed August 15 in federal court in Connecticut, the suit claims that the Poland Spring brand of bottled water does not meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s definition of spring water.
Both suits claim that consumers are purchasing “common groundwater,” although the Poland Spring label suggests otherwise. Specifically, the first complaint accuses Nestlé of misleading the public by advertising the Poland Spring water as sourced from “100% Natural Spring Water,” featuring images of “pristine mountain or forest springs.” The suit alleges that, in reality, the water simply contains “ordinary groundwater” with the majority sourced from some of the most populated regions of Maine.
A panel of judges will likely determine whether or not the two complaints should be combined, and where they will be heard.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. For years, critics of bottled water have pointed out that the industry dubiously markets its products as superior to tap water. In fact, the bottled water industry is notorious for tapping into fears about tap water in order to manufacture demand for its product. This is particularly ironic considering the fact that much of the bottled water sold in the U.S. comes from the tap.
The problems with bottled water, of course, are bigger than just alleged deceptive marketing. In addition to pollution linked to the manufacturing of plastic, bottled water causes significant equity and environmental problems. For instance, the manufacturing, production and transportation of bottled water is 1,100 to 2,000 times as energy intensive as the treatment and distribution of tap water; up to 77 percent of PET plastic water bottles end up as trash, rather than being recycled. And transporting bottled water great distances contributes to global warming.
It’s not just the waste, or that consumers are wasting money on a product that costs thousands of times more than drinking tap water from their faucet. Reliance on bottled water may make people less inclined to support public investment in municipal water systems—to the benefit of multinational bottling companies. Without public funding for our water systems, tap water would become less affordable and less safe. We should not force households, particularly low-income ones, to just substitute bottled water for tap water. Instead, we need the federal government to step up investment in our public water systems. Every person deserves safe tap water.
For years, communities around the United States have found themselves in court battling Nestlé for control over their local water resources. Nestlé’s water business has also run into other troubles lately. Just this past year, amidst California’s epic drought, the company faced protests over collecting, selling and bottling water from the San Bernardino mountains. A few months ago, a Michigan community denied Nestlé’s request to build a new pumping station so it could withdraw more water for its Ice Mountain brand. And last year, an eight-year battle in one Oregon town came to a head with a huge victory over Nestlé at the ballot box.
While the bottled water industry seeks to make its product as ubiquitous as tap water, it’s clear that many communities don’t want multinational corporations taking their vital resources. Unfortunately, it seems some policy makers favor the industry over communities, consumers and the environment.
On August 16, the National Park Service announced that it was canceling a 2011 policy to eliminate bottled water in national parks. The roll-back of these Obama-era plans puts pristine environments, and the wildlife that live in them, in jeopardy, as much of bottled water ends up as litter. Whatever boon the Trump administration might be for the industry, it’s clear that consumers should ditch the bottle and take back the tap whenever possible.
We also urge you to contact your Senator and ask them to reject Trump’s privatization plans and support our public water and sewer systems. After all, water belongs to the public and should be preserved for all.