Flint Residents’ Angry Comments About Nestle Changed My Mind [OPINION]
Before I get into this whole thing, here's some important background info about Nestle and its odd relationship with Flint.
It's fair to say that things have changed quite a bit since 2017, when everyone was up in arms about Nestle being approved for a permit that would allow them to nearly double the amount of water they're pumping out of Michigan for a mere $200/year. The approval was widely opposed by the public, with the most frequent criticism sounding like this:
The MDEQ ultimately ignored most of the criticism and approved Nestle's permit in April of 2018. A month later Nestle announced that they would donate 100,000 bottles of water to Flint per week for an undisclosed amount of time.
Based on the numbers available, I previously approximated (and keep in mind -- I'm no mathematician) that it would take Nestle about 11 hours to pump enough water to donate to Flint at that level for 5 months. So maybe around 24 hours of pumping for a year's worth of Flint donations, then the rest of the year it's an all-you-can-bottle buffet for Nestle. Even if I'm a little off on those numbers, that still seems like a pretty good deal for $200 a year.
Fast forward to November 2018, and this commercial began airing in the Flint area:
Critics have said that the opinion of the general public is not represented by this commercial, which may be why the video's comments are disabled on YouTube.
A few days ago, Mayor Karen Weaver announced that Nestle is committed to donating 1.8 million bottles to Flint through the first four months of the year, which is a continuation of their previous donation volume multiplied across a four-month period.
Rather than try to speculate on whether people are thankful for Nestle's donations or feel they're exploiting the water crisis, I decided to get some public input on the situation. Here's just a sample of what was said in the hundreds of strongly-worded responses we received to that very question:
A lot of those comments hit on the facets of this thing that bothered me about the situation -- the fact that they're getting a ton of water "for free" and the commercial, which I also felt was in poor taste. While I still believe the latter, a few comments on this issue began to change my perspective on the former. Particularly, the ones seen below:
Chris and my good friend Patrick are correct. Nestle is just doing what corporations do -- following the law in order to make money. Whether or not you agree with how they're getting their water is irrelevant. They're following the law. If that's your big hangup, your problem is with the MDEQ, who approved the permit, or with Michigan lawmakers, not Nestle.
If you think about it, Nestle kind of got backed into a corner on this whole ordeal. They had nothing to do with the Flint water crisis. If their permit wouldn't have been made a headline while the water crisis was a big story, we wouldn't even be talking about them right now. Sure, it wasn't the best timing, but that's hardly a reason to villainize a corporation for something they literally had no role in.
The whole "they could give more" argument that a lot of people were putting forward is the same BS I took issue with people saying that about celebrities at the start of this crisis. It makes us look trashy and ungrateful. We could all do more than we do, but none of us are obligated to do so.
Yeah, Nestle could give more. Is it costing them more to run the commercial about donating water than it is to actually donate the water? If I had to guess, I'd say probably... but that's their business. The Flint water crisis is not. We should be thankful that they're doing anything because not everybody is.
Just for some perspective, I looked into exactly how much of Michigan's water Nestle is using. To my surprise, they weren't the number one user. They weren't even number 51 according to most recent data available from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. In fact, they use a very small portion of that pie, as does bottled water as a whole. Take a look:
Now, I can't speak to whether aquifers or water tables are being dried out because of Nestle as some in the comments have claimed, but the amount they're taking is less than what our state says is naturally replenished through the water cycle. So again, if that's a real problem it should absolutely be looked at. That's an issue that needs to be taken up with the state though -- not Nestle.
If you think the commercial was a bit much, that's fair. It didn't sit well with me either. That doesn't mean it's fair to hang the responsibility of fixing the water crisis on a random corporation that's actually just donating resources to the people of Flint. That's tacky.