The bottled water industry is getting a bad rap
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The bottled water industry has recently come under attack by critics who say they are concerned about the quantity of water bottles going to our landfills and the energy used transporting them to market.

But those who propose bans on bottled water don't acknowledge that bottled water represents less than 1 percent of the municipal solid waste that ends up in landfills. Bottled water is only one beverage among hundreds that come in plastic containers.

Nor do the critics acknowledge that bottled water is a healthy choice.

The percentage of children who are overweight or obese in the United States is up 370 percent in the last generation. The average person in the United States gets 458 calories per day from beverages. That's an increase of 225 calories per day in the past 10 years, adding a whopping 82,000 calories per year to our diets.

Drinking more water, whether bottled or tap, represents a significant opportunity to reduce the problems of obesity and diabetes.

The critics do not recognize that tap water is not always available - especially when there are natural disasters, such as the recent floods in Texas, Illinois, Ohio and other parts of the Midwest.

My company, Nestle Waters North America, and others have responded with donations of bottled water when municipal supplies have been overwhelmed by flood waters. In partnership with the American Red Cross and AmeriCares, we have responded to these natural disasters hundreds of times over the last 30 years.

The water and beverage market has changed greatly over the three decades that I have spent in the business. With the introduction of the half-liter bottle in 1989, consumers were able for the first time to get a healthy, convenient alternative to the sugared beverages that had dominated the packaged beverage market for years.

Ours is a 24/7 on-the-go society; Americans want the beverages we consume to be convenient. That explains why 70 percent of the beverages we drink in the United States come in bottles or cans, many of which have sugar, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors or artificial flavors. We believe that if you drink a beverage from a container, bottled water is by far the best choice you can make.

In the 21st century, one of the main responsibilities for a company like ours is to lighten our environmental footprint. In this area, Nestle Waters North America has made great strides. Last year, my company's 32 percent share of the U.S. bottled water market brought in revenues of $3.5 billion.

Our new ultra light ''Eco-Shape'' bottles - already available in parts of the U.S. - will be available everywhere by the end of the year. The ''Eco-Shape'' process drastically reduces the plastic content in each bottle. Eco-Shape bottles are 30 percent lighter than most other half-liter bottles; they are the lightest weight bottles of their size ever produced in the U.S.

They will save the environment 65 million pounds of plastic in 2008, and they take less energy to make. Because we make all of our own packaging at Nestle Waters, we also save the environmental cost of shipping 160,000 truckloads of empty bottles into our plants annually, saving over 6 million gallons of fuel.

Nestle Waters North America is taking responsibility for finding real solutions. We advocate for recycling programs which will capture and recycle most food, beverage, household, and other recyclable containers used frequently in the home. Right now, curbside recycling is only available for about 50 percent of the households in America.

The initiatives Nestle Waters and some other companies have undertaken will make a meaningful difference in the environmental challenges we face as a nation. More research into creative package design and more robust recycling initiatives at the local and state level will help. Banning a healthy beverage like bottled water will not.

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* KIM JEFFERY is president and CEO of Nestle Waters North America Inc.