Perceptions of Quality and Household Water Usage: A Representative Study in Jacksonville, FL

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Publisher: Springer
Document Type: Article
Length: 5,329 words
Lexile Measure: 1380L

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When faced with the fear of low-quality tap water, households are motivated to seek out and use alternatives. This study investigated the role of quality perception and aesthetics on choices among three modes of household water usage: unfiltered tap water, filtered tap water, and bottled water. The data were based on a telephone survey of randomly selected households in Jacksonville, FL, conducted during March 2016. As the three modes of water usage were not mutually exclusive, a multivariate probit model was fitted and simultaneous parameter estimates were generated for each of three binary equations. The key results suggest that concerns regarding safety, contamination and sickness linked to unfiltered tap water are associated with increased bottled water usage in the home, but they have no effect on water filter usage. By contrast, complaints about foul-smelling water are associated with increased usage of water filters. In addition, the evidence implies that while water filter usage increases with household income, bottled water usage appears insensitive to changes in income. Finally, African-American households have a higher probability than other racial groups of using bottled water in the home, all else equal.

Keywords Water usage - Natural resource management * Risk perception * Survey research * Multivariate Probit

JEL Q25Q53D12

Introduction

Although estimates differ, bottled water costs consumers between 240 and 10,000 times more than tap water (Font-Ribera et al. 2017; He et al. 2008). Nevertheless, the average consumption of bottled water among Americans continues to increase. According to a 2016 report by the Beverage Marketing Corporation, per capita bottled water consumption was 39 gallon in 2016, while per capita soft drink consumption was 38.5 gallon (Beverage Marketing Corporation 2017). The growth in bottled water usage is widespread, and it is accompanied by significant negative externalities. When compared to tap water, bottled water consumes 1000 to 2000 times more energy to produce (plastic is made from crude oil) and transport, releasing substantial carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Gleick and Cooley 2009). Furthermore, only about 13% of the empty plastic bottles eventually reach the recycling stream (Didier 2013). Those that end up in landfills generate incinerated toxic byproducts, such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals. Others enter streams, rivers, and the oceans, contributing to contamination of water bodies and harming wildlife. Research has focused on ways of increasing the recycling rate (Viscusi et al. 2012), but so far organized anti-bottled water campaigns have had little impact on consumer behavior, despite the relative price differences and environmental costs.

Previous research suggests that the factors influencing preferences for bottled water include perceptions of safety and quality, convenience, household composition, and skepticism towards public officials and institutions (Bontemps and Nauges 2016; Jeuland et al. 2016; Vasquez et al. 2015; Brox et al. 2003; Urn et al. 2002). Perceptions represent the formation of an individual's state of mental awareness and can change over time due to personal, social and economic factors. For example, both aesthetic and non-aesthetic qualities are closely related to perceptions of risk and safety of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A592240269