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Should we be buying water from Fiji?

Fiji Water announced today that it is shutting down its bottling operations in the military-controlled country of Fiji because the Pacific island nation is simply too risky a place to do business these days.

The Fiji government last week decided to increase the taxes the company must pay on the water it extracts at an aquifer on the main island Viti Levu from F$0.003 per liter (a third of a Fiji cent) to F$0.15 per liter (15 Fiji cents). “This new tax is untenable and as a consequence, Fiji Water is left with no choice but to close our facility in Fiji,” the company’s president, John Cochran, said in a statement. 

Owned by Lynda and Stewart Resnick (who also own POM Wonderful), Fiji Water is now one of the best-selling imported bottled water brands in the United States and can be found in the well-heeled hands of such celebrities as Justin Timberlake, Mary J. Blige and even reportedly President Obama.

While the company cries foul over its tax increase, I’m wondering why Americans are buying bottled water all the way from the Fiji Islands. Bottle water products generate 1.5 million tons of plastic waste annually—more than 80 percent of which is thrown away rather than recycled. Drinking water that has been extracted from a pristine aquifer located half way across the globe also seems particularly wasteful, even if you do think you look cool bringing your Fiji Water bottle to your Pilates class and even if Fiji Water is a "carbon-negative" company (as its owners claim).

One major downside of Fiji Water’s facility closure, however, is that it will eliminate about 400 jobs in the small country, where about 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Fiji Water is also halting several large construction projects and canceling its contracts with local suppliers.

Sales of Fiji Water currently generate about 20 percent of Fiji’s exports. Maybe we Americans can help make up for the country’s lost Fiji Water tax revenues by using the money we save from drinking tap water to pay for an eco-tourism adventure within the island nation.

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