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ISSUE 119 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/28/2006

Northfield residents think outside bottle

By Pete Williams
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 28, 2006

Recently, Northfield residents were invited to take the Tap Water Challenge, an event that dared participants to put on blindfolds and try to tell the difference between tap water and bottled water.

Linda Wells of Corporate Accountability International worked with four Northfield student groups to organize the event, which took place at Carleton last Friday. St. Olaf's Environmental Coalition and Peace and Justice groups joined forces with Carleton's Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) and Wellstone House of Action and Organizing groups to help run the Tap Water Challenge.

Passersby were challenged to sample four unmarked cups of water containing Aquafina, Dasani and tap water from Minneapolis and Northfield. The campaign attempted to educate participants about dangerous trends in the growing bottled water industry.

More than 80 people took the challenge and many more learned information about the rising corporate control of water.

Northfield is one of a number of cities around the country to participate in the Think Outside the Bottle campaign. The event was part of a national campaign launched by Corporate Accountability International to challenge the multi-million dollar marketing muscle of the bottled water industry.

Marketing for bottled water usually attempts to convince the potential customer that bottled water is safer, cleaner, purer or more natural than tap water. One goal of the Think Outside the Bottle campaign is to tell the public that this advertising is misleading.

The organization uses the fact that tap water is regulated much more thoroughly and consistently than bottled water, which is regulated more inconsistently, infrequently and inadequately. Tap water is monitored daily.

“Half of all people in America drink bottled water. One in six drink only bottled water, even though it is significantly more expensive than tap water and at times less safe,” Wells said. “This dangerous trend is being driven by misleading advertising from the expanding for-profit water industry. Corporations like Coke and Pepsi are setting out to turn water into a profit-driven commodity, similar to oil. And they're spending immense amounts of money to steer the people and government policies in this direction.”

The Think Outside the Bottle campaign also focuses on the idea of water as a human right. Water around the world is being diverted from public access to private control. Large bottling corporations such as Coke, Nestlé and Pepsi create bottling plants that interfere with, harm or even destroy water sources across the world.

Allison Madison '07, an organizer affiliated with the Environmental Coalition, said, “Buying a bottle of water doesn't seem like much more than a health-conscious purchase, I think that is why this campaign is so important. Consumers don't realize bottled water creates victims halfway around the world.”

The campaign on water privatization reform is just one of several campaigns being run by Corporate Accountability International. The organization uses an online database and e-mail communication (that is known as e-activism) to get the word out about issues and organize events and activities. The idea behind e-activism is to utilize the Internet in a way that allows people to learn facts about issues such as water rights while providing the opportunity to act if people wish to.

The success of the Tap Water Challenge event was due to the excellent cooperation of students from both colleges. The event's turnout also was a result of the student organizers and other people, such as parents, professors, prospective students and workers who took part in the event. Wells indicated that a Tap Water Challenge or other Think Outside the Bottle events would likely be held at St. Olaf in the future.

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