Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Frank with Joe: A Conversation with IBWA’s Joe Doss

Joe Doss (L) and the author (R)
Since water is an integral part of my life, and given that I have written about water, bottled water, and water issues for over a decade (including my book OurWorld of Water: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of Earth’s Most CriticalResource), I have known Joe Doss, President of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) for a while, but had not met him until we were at the Berkeley Springs International WaterTasting in West Virginia together. It’s easy to dismiss IBWA as just another trade organization, and that’s your prerogative. But at least find out what they do, and then make up your own mind. Joe and I sat down for a discussion in April 2016.

Joe Doss been involved trade associations most of his career. “I’ve always found association work to be interesting, with a lot of different things going on; communications, legislation, regulations, a portfolio of issues.” Hum, well to each his own. He suggests that bottled water companies are populated with salt of the earth people and makes this point. “Most people think that bottled water companies are just big conglomerates, which is not the case - a lot of them are second and third generation, family-owned local companies.” And that’s important because many local businesses rely on the support of local customers.

Bottled waters of the world
Plastics & People
“There are people and groups that don’t like plastics,” says Joe. Yes, we all know that the majority of bottled water is in plastic bottles. “Bottled water is the number one item in curbside recycling,” Joe tells me. And though IBWA continues to encourage recycling, what is rarely talked about is that ALL beverages in plastic, glass and aluminum are recyclable. Yet beer cans are not recycled, nor plastic soda bottles and the list goes on. Waste is not limited to plastic bottles of water. “Bottled water companies are trying to do what they can to reduce greenhouse emissions and reduced CO2 including light weighting (plastic bottles with less plastic content), using r-PET (recycled plastic pellets to create new bottles), and compostable bottles (bottles often made from plant materials which will degrade naturally). “We encourage all efforts to reduce carbon footprints.” And Joe says regardless of the type of container, tetra pak, aluminum, glass or cardboard, “it’s all considered bottled water under FDA regulations.”

The author at 5,000 feet on Arrowhead Mtn.
Private Water
“There’s not a global effort to privatize all water,” Joe says. “But beyond privatization, there’s a belief that since bottled water sales and consumption continue to grow, people will rely more on bottled water and will be less inclined to pay the enormous sums of money it will take to make sure that public water systems are maintained and provide safe water. So the argument, and it’s not a valid argument, is that people believe reliance on bottled water precludes supporting municipal systems.” And yes, that conspiracy theory is out there. “So they believe there will be an eventual situation of haves and have-nots. We always point out that half of all bottled water, at least at the retail level, comes from municipal sources.” Joe mentions that this water is purified and packaged under sanitary conditions and that IBWA supports strong municipal sources and maintaining infrastructure in part because it actually needs the water. 

Give, and Give Again
Some people dislike bottled water. Yet when it’s a crucial life and death issue, suddenly the haters utilize bottled water. Bottled water companies have provided critical bottled water to Flint, during Hurricane Katrina, to humanitarian and emergency causes everywhere, all the time. “Bottled water companies have always been there during natural disasters, giving money to charity, even giving product to little league teams and fun runs.” Added to that - many bottled water companies support habitat restoration, water infrastructure and such but frankly, they do a terrible job of informing the general public of what they are doing.

Behind the Scenes Work
As it relates to the broad issue of water scarcity, and water resources management Joe tells me IBWA is involved in state and federal legislation to a point. “We’re always at the table to deal with regulation including water resource management issues, but there are three things we want to make certain are in place.”
#1: “The proposed regulation is based on sound science. You have people thinking that bottled water companies are taking water out of the aquifers and depleting them, but people don’t have the facts, which is that just .02% of water is extracted by the industry.” And he adds that it takes 1.23 liters of water to create a liter of bottled water - the smallest for any packaged beverage (including soda), and yes, I get the irony. A paltry amount? Yes.
#2: “Legislation has to be multi-jurisdictional. Aquifers don’t obey state lines.” And this is where things easily fall apart. As I detail in my book municipalities, counties and states all share a common water source. The Colorado River for example has seven states that lay claim to the river. Proper legislation needs to incorporate all of these factions.
#3: “It has to treat all users equally. What normally happens when we get involved in state or federal regulatory action, it usually tries to be comprehensive so that everyone has a sustainable water supply. But then in come the farmers. Ag uses abut 78% of groundwater in almost every state and nationally. Farmers have a powerful lobby, and often they get themselves written out of the bill and that concerns us because we believe all water users should be treated equally.” It’s no secret, though barely understood by the average consumer, that many farmers receive water subsidies, in some cases for growing crops on land that has no business being used for farm land to begin with, and for growing crops that do not serve the nutritional needs of Americans. Farming is hard work – I know, I have relatives who are farmers. But a lot of the Ag industry wants, and receives, special treatment. Fair? No. Old boys network? Yes.

But perhaps the coolest thing IBWA has accomplished which can impact our health is that they fought to get water incorporated as part of the 2015 federal dietary guidelines. “We’ve been working on this for a long time. The Department of Health and Human Services, and United States Department of Agriculture now recognize the importance of water as part of a healthy diet.” It might be surprising but if you recall the old food pyramid, (protein, grains, dairy, etc.) water was never part of that.

So I finally ask Joe what he drinks. “I only drink water, ever since the age of 18. My kids have never seen me drink anything other than water - no coffee or tea, just water.” I guess that last part surprised me. At any rate, now you know a little bit more about bottled water and what the industry aims to do.


  1. Replies
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