Advertisements are the invasive species of the urban world, seeking out every available space to spawn a message. The latest marketing slot is wrapped around free water bottles at just about any business you can imagine. Whether you are browsing around at a car dealership, shopping at a department store, or getting your teeth cleaned, there’s a good chance that a free bottle of water sporting the company slogan is waiting for you to grab it up.
And it’s not an unsuccessful ad campaign, because it banks on a widespread weakness for free product and stats that show Americans guzzle twice as much bottled water as they did just 10 years ago. Amy Roe, a senior editor for the Bear Deluxe, a quarterly magazine of environmental issues and creative arts, writes in “Message in a Bottle” (article not available online), “Taking free things is easy to rationalize, hard to resist. (Free food, as we all know, doesn’t really have calories.)”
Likewise, the environmental impacts of free items are often easier to disregard than items you pay for. It’s not hard to see, however, that free plastic water bottles are not an eco-friendly way to publicize a brand. Recyclable, yes—but 90 percent of plastic water bottles still end up in the trash or littered on the ground, according to the Sierra Club.
The good news is that some people are starting to avoid plastic bottles, opting for municipal water instead. Bear Deluxe reports that the West Coast cities of Seattle, San Francisco, and Vancouver have all made similar efforts to phase out the use of plastic water bottles at city functions, an earth-conscious change that has additionally benefited San Francisco with a savings of $500,000 a year.
We’re accustomed to being bombarded with unnecessary free products in our culture, and Amy Roe is great at bringing the uselessness of those trends to surface. The Utne Reader recently reprinted another Roe article from the Bear Deluxe, “Tee-d Off,” that fleshes out the ills of race-day T-shirts, which are often used just once and subsequently shipped off to countries where they were most likely originally made.
(Thanks, Bear Deluxe.)