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Parched, Profits, and Plastic

This week’s Torah Portion, Devarim is the first portion of Deuteronomy (Devarim in Hebrew) and is the last of the Five Books of Moses. The Parsha begins by recounting the story of the 12 spies who were the reason for our wandering in the Wilderness for 40 years. After that, the Parsha mostly chronicles the journeys of the Israelites in the desert for those 40 years. It tells of the places they encamped and the battles and kingdoms they fought.

In Chapter 2:6 and again in verse 28, we see a very interesting statement. As we passed through the Land of Seir, which is where the descendants of Esau lived, the Torah says:

אֹכֶל תִּשְׁבְּרוּ מֵאִתָּם בַּכֶּסֶף, וַאֲכַלְתֶּם; וְגַם-מַיִם תִּכְרוּ מֵאִתָּם, בַּכֶּסֶף—וּשְׁתִיתֶם
You shall purchase food from them for money, that you may eat; and you shall also buy water from them for money, that ye may drink.

Deut. 2:6

And to Sihon, King of Heshbon, Moses said:

אֹכֶל בַּכֶּסֶף תַּשְׁבִּרֵנִי וְאָכַלְתִּי, וּמַיִם בַּכֶּסֶף תִּתֶּן-לִי וְשָׁתִיתִי
Sell me food for money, that I may eat; and give me water for money, that I may drink.

Deut. 2:28

While we all are accustomed to purchasing food, it would seem that even our ancestors were no strangers to buying water. Luckily, theirs wasn’t packaged in plastic bottles. What this section does tell us, however, is that water is essential and worth paying for. The text doesn’t say they paid for anything but food and water. Perhaps the scarcity of water in the wilderness made it valuable. If only our society today valued water in the same way.

Of all the utilities we pay for, electricity, gas, and water, the only one we need to survive is water. Yet it is water for which we pay the least. Not only do we pay the least amount for water, but by comparison, it is outrageously cheap. In 2019, An average American family of four paid only about $72.93 a month for water if each person used about 100 gallons per day.1 That averages out to about $0.06 per gallon. This is not just drinking water but also includes water used in a home for bathing, washing dishes and clothes etc. The average cost of drinking water from the tap comes to about $0.0034 per gallon.2

At the same time, while we are accustomed to paying so little for water in our homes, people are ready and willing to pay exorbitant prices to buy water in plastic bottles. A 5-gallon jug of water on Amazon sells for $3.50. A package of 15 individual 12 oz water bottles sells for $14.95. That’s about $1.00 for each 12 oz bottle. There are 128 oz in a gallon. So, if you pay $1.00 for a 12 oz plastic bottle of water, you would be paying about $10.60 per gallon for that water. Such an exorbitant price is understandable when you consider what went into producing that bottle of water you just purchased. It was necessary to extract oil from the ground somewhere in the world and ship that oil to a refinery somewhere else in the world, where it was processed into plastic pellets which were then shipped somewhere else in the world to be formed into plastic bottles and filled at a processing plant somewhere else in the world and then filled (most likely) with the same water that comes out of the tap in your home for which you would be paying about $0.0034.

While we are paying outrageous prices for bottled water, at the same time, about 1,000,000 plastic bottles are sold around the world EVERY MINUTE. In 2021 alone, that was about 583,000,000,000 (yes, that’s 583 BILLION) plastic bottles.3 And as we all know, that plastic NEVER goes away.

While the Israelites paid for water so long ago, I’m pretty sure they didn’t pay as much as we are today. More importantly, they didn’t pay the additional cost of the environmental disaster that we are creating. We’re pumping too much groundwater, we’re extracting too much fossil fuel to bottle that water, and we’re paying too much money for that water. It seems to me that it would be much easier, safer, healthier, and cheaper… if we drink water from the tap (after it is filtered; that’s a Water Torah for another time).


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