When Nestle opened its water bottling plant in West Phoenix less than three years ago, their announcement was greeted with disbelief and even anger from environmental activists. Recently, they announced their decision to close the plant.
Water in the Desert
The primary objection to the Nestle plant was water availability. The Arizona desert is one of the driest places in the United States.
The plant was buying 35 million gallons of water per year from the City of Phoenix.. To put that in perspective, Phoenix gets an average of 8.04 inches of rainfall annually. Compare that to the national average of 32.21 inches annually, and it’s easy to see why water availability is a big issue in the Sonoran Desert.
An article in the Arizona Republic at the time mentioned that 35 million gallons approximates the amount of water used by 200 households in Phoenix annually.
When the plant opened, Nestle’s response was to point out that bottling water locally requires less fuel and is, overall, better for the environment than bottling water outside of Phoenix and shipping it in for residents to drink. Since the plan was to treat city water for drinking by city residents, they argued that there wouldn’t be any significant loss of water. However, critics pointed out that Phoenix residents could simply filter that same water at home and drink it from their taps.
The other argument Nestle made at the time was that they would be providing dozens of jobs to Phoenix residents.
The plant opened despite the environmental concerns and has been in operation ever since. The water they bottle sells under the Nestle-owned Pure Life label. The company also owns Arrowhead Water.
The Decision to Close
The decision to close the plant apparently has nothing to do with concerns about the environmental impact of the plant and more to do with competition in the bottled water market.
A statement from Hugues Larente, the manager of the company’s Phoenix factory, read in part:
In response to the competitive situation, we have been evolving our operations to meet our future needs and to position the company for long-term success. Toward that goal, we have made the decision to cease production at our Phoenix factory, effective immediately.
The plan is to shift water production to another facility. The 15 employees currently employed at the plant, which is located at 43rd Avenue and Buckeye Road, will be offered severance packages. The company said that some may also be offered jobs at other Nestle locations.
Nestle also owns a water distribution service called Ready Refresh that services homes and business in Phoenix. That service will not be disrupted by the company’s decision to close the plant.
Despite Nestle’s original statements about the environmental benefit of bottling water in Phoenix, they announced that they will still be shipping water to Phoenix from other locations. The company’s critics are likely to have mixed feelings about the decision – and to continue to recommend that residents drink tap water instead of buying water in plastic bottles.