Bottled water is bad, right?

…but how bad is it really? Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.

Roughly 894 million people do no have access to safe, fresh water. After a disaster, when water services are out, there may be no other safe option. For these people bottled water can literally be a lifesaver.

 But what about those people who do have the option of drinking fresh, clean, and safe water from the tap. Why do they turn to bottled water?

 I was going to leave that a rhetorical question, but then I found this, which really explains it all….

So you have seen the pros, what are the cons?

 A big one is the amount of oil that goes into making the bottle:

  • Oil used to make all the bottles of water sold each year in the United States would keep a million cars going for twelve months.
  • Another way of thinking about that is that the amount of oil it takes to make each bottle would fill each bottle approximately a quarter of the way.

 What happens to the bottle after is been used?

  •  Only one in six bottles are recycled. That makes a whole lot of wasted oil, and extra trash.
  • Of the bottles recycled by environmentally conscious Americans, 40% were exported to be recycled offshore, consuming even more fossil fuels.

 Cost!

  • Bottled water can cost between 240 and 10,000 times more than tap water.
  • Some brands of bottled water costs more than petrol.
  • Globally, $100 billion is spent each year on bottled water.

 Also, I was surprised to find that of the water bottled and sold, 40% begins its life as tap water!

5/6 bottles of water end their life here, discarded as trash.

So how do we stack up?

 Globally, on average, Italians drink the most bottled water (155 litres per person per year) or the equivalent of two glasses of bottled water per day. Other heavy drinkers are France (146 L), Belgium (117 L), Switzerland (111 L) and Germany (109 L).

The USA lags a little behind (47 L), while the UK (25 L), Australia (17 L) and Japan (10.4L) are all well below the global average of 54 litres per person per year.

And little old New Zealand? For once we should be glad to be at the back of the pack, consuming on average only 5 litres of bottled water per person per year.

Ethics and Bottled water

 Fiji Water is a popular brand of bottled water, owned by Americans and extracting water from a deep aquifer in Fiji.

 In 2010 sent its workers home and threatened to shut down its factory, (a move which would have cost 400 jobs to the local Fijians) after the government announced plans to raise the tax on water taken.

When I say raise it, I mean raise it from 0.003 Fijian cents per litre to 15 Fijian cents per litre (about 10 New Zealand cents). Considering Fiji water retails for $3- $4 US, and their marketing budget alone is $10 million US, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request. This money would be able to be used to upgrade the local sanitation infrastructure.

This investment is much needed, as ironically Fiji has one of the highest rates of typhoid fever in the world. Typhoid fever is associated with contaminated water and poor sanitation.  This situation becomes more ludicrus as people are advised not to drink the local water, and instead buy bottled water.

Fortunately for the Fijians, the Fiji Water’s threats came to nothing, and they later accepted the price hike, and continued extracting Fiji’s water.

Its not hard to see why, when Fiji water is …

 Far from pollution. Far from acid rain. Far from industrial waste. The island nation of Fiji is a cluster of green jewels set in the endless blue of the Pacific. In fact, the very name “Fiji” has become an icon of beauty, nature, simplicity, and remoteness – and when it comes to drinking water, “remoteness” is a critical blessing. In this isolated and idyllic setting, FIJI Water is drawn from an artesian aquifer that lies hundreds of feet below the edges of a primitive rainforest. That distance and isolation is part of what makes FIJI Water so much purer and richer in taste than other bottled waters. (Fiji Water website)

 It sounds pretty good doesn’t it?

I find it ridiculous that Fiji Water is able to extract water from the pure clean aquifer, while local Fijians are drinking contaminated water which makes them ill.

Furthermore, Fiji water claims to be “the first major beverage brand to give a carbon negative commitment”. This would suggest by buying Fiji water you are actually reducing your carbon footprint. However, I would argue consumption always has an environmental cost.  Read this article for more on the true environmental cost of Fiji water.

 The solution to our bottled water problem?

Buy a drink bottle.

If you are worried about particulates in your water, invest in a filter. If you don’t like its taste, squeeze some lemon in it.

For those in NZ who don’t like your water, its worth remembering that Claridges (a luxury hotel in London) sells 420 Volcanic, a spring water from New Zealand for 21 pound per bottle.

 So think again before you pick up that bottle off the shelf. What did it take to get here? What will happen when you are finished with it? Do you really need it?

 Sources:

 National Geographic Website

 The Earth Policy Institute

 Global stats from Nation Master

 Fiji Water Website

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/8585182/Fiji-Water-accused-of-environmentally-misleading-claims.html

http://blog.sfgate.com/gleick/2010/11/29/fiji-water-where-bottled-water-money-and-ethics-conflict/

http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/typhoid-outbreak-in-fiji-3393357

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Bottled water is bad, right?

  1. Fascinating, you’ve re-educated me. I will have to invest in a non-leaky water bottle and use it.

  2. hugh

    this has been on my mind a lot as we are going thrugh a big 3 liter bottle every second day.

    • Yay! So glad to hear you are still alive, that i am not going to chastise you on your poor environmental practice 😉 But seriously, travelling through S.A is probably a valid excuse for drinking bottled water!

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