Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.S.

Degree Granting Department

Geography, Environment and Planning

Major Professor

Pratyusha Basu

Keywords

Bottled Water, Consumption Preferences, Environmental Behaviors, Florida's Water

Abstract

Over-consumption in developed economies undoubtedly puts a large strain on the environment, and many would argue that the damage is irreversible. Current uses and rates of consumption of freshwater resources are also deemed to be unsustainable. A large contributor to the high demand for water is the shift in consumer preferences from tap to bottled water. In the last few decades, bottled water companies have set unprecedented records, surpassing all other types of non-alcoholic beverages to become the second largest beverage market next to soda. Bottled water has been on the rise due to its supposed safety, purity and convenience. Municipal tap water companies have little to no incentive for disproving these theories since tap water continues to be used for non-drinking purposes. Meanwhile, bottled water companies are spending millions of dollars in appealing advertisements, which further fuels distrust of tap water providers.

The purpose of this thesis was to determine how consumers understand the differences between bottled and tap water, and how such understandings were linked to individual socioeconomic characteristics, properties of bottled water, knowledge of its environmental costs and advertising and marketing. Since the city of Pensacola in Florida was recently determined to have some of the worst tap water in the country, it presented an interesting case study for the discussion of bottled water consumption. Two separate neighborhoods, chosen based on average income, were surveyed in Pensacola, and residents were asked about their bottled water consumption and preferences. Topics of inquiry included frequency of consumption, reasons for and against bottled water consumption, and opinions and knowledge surrounding bottled water.

The majority of respondents of this study regularly drank bottled water regardless of income. Convenience was the most popular reason cited for drinking bottled water, and taste also emerged as an important property. Respondents did not consider themselves to be influenced by advertising and marketing by bottled water companies. Concerns regarding tap water were related to the safety and taste of water supply. Participants were to some extent aware of the environmental implications of drinking bottled water, yet this knowledge did not keep them from drinking bottled water. This thesis thus shows that making people aware of the environmental and economic costs of bottled water is not sufficient to regaining tap water trustworthiness. Instead, the habits of consumerism which make it convenient to purchase bottled water seem to be implicated in the popularity of bottled water.

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