Let's talk about Bottled Mineral Water
Comparing Bottled Water with Water Filters
The use of bottled water has grown enormously over the past 20 years.
Today the developed world consumes around 450 billion litres of bottled water a year.
A million plastic bottles are bought every minute (This includes soft drinks but the great majority are for water).
That's 20,000 every second
Sadly most are simply thrown away and many of them end up in the sea.
Almost half of this consumption takes place in Asia/Pacific (Half of that in China). About 30% in the Americas, 20% in Europe and the rest in the Middle East and Africa
The total market for bottled water is currently worth around $350 billion a year
Why do we drink so much water from plastic bottles?
The main reason is clever marketing. The bottled water companies play on ill-founded fears over the public supply ie what comes out of the tap. (Here's a great article from the Guardian about the history of bottled water)
|Checkout some great value alternatives to bottled water - Click here
Bottled water used to be purely "Mineral water" ie from healthy springs / spas.
Some facts about Mineral Water
The earliest known example of selling bottled water in the UK was monks in the middle ages selling special flasks of water from "holy wells" for pilgrims to keep as a memento - or even proof - of their visit to the holy place. (From: James Salzman / Drinking Water: A History)
In the UK, up to the Second World War, the town of Bath, an ancient Roman Spa town, promoted its waters as being high in naturally occurring radiation (as a health benefit!).
When it became known that there was no health benefit attached to radioactive water, this publicity was quietly dropped.
In the same town in 1979 a young girl dived to the bottom of a spa pool, swallowing a mouthful of the water in the process. Sadly she died several days later of amoebic meningitis. The pool was subsequently closed to the public.
In Parma, Italy, doctors were concerned with a high incidence of kidney stones among the local populace. Studies showed that the only common trait amongst the sufferers was a high consumption of un-carbonated natural mineral water.
Most bottled waters are probably safe to drink, but tests have shown that they often fall behind in quality, in comparison with the public supply.
The public water supply is tested hundreds of times each year, for a range of contaminants, for example E. Coli and faecal matter, various bacteria and viruses, along with synthetic organic chemicals, pesticides etc.
Bottled water, on the other hand, is subject to far fewer controls, sometimes none at all.
The source of bottled waters varies, from the above mentioned mineral water from natural springs, through to purified tap water.
The latter amounts to around 59% of the total produced.
This is astonishing when one considers how better quality purified water can be produced in peoples own homes with domestic kitchen water filters.
Filter your weater and there is no damage to the environment from transporting the bottles.
There is no leaching of plastic into the water or other health risks associated with storing potable water in warehouses.
And the cost is between 240 to 10,000 times cheaper.
Testing Bottled Water
Tests carried out on various brands of bottled water have yielded surprising results.
For example, naturally occurring Uranium found in Badoit, a high class mineral water, was 24 times higher than recommended maximum levels.
The bottled water industry is far less regulated than the public supply companies.
- Far fewer tests are carried out at each stage of production
- Contamination of collection zone: again, there is little control over where the water is collected, and, therefore, what impurities may have entered the supply.
- Naturally occurring impurities – are all those dissolved minerals really good for you?
The enormous profits involved have drawn big players to the market, companies such as Perrier (owned by Nestle), Coca Cola, Evian and the like.
With their political clout, they can monopolize a water source and extract freely, with little regard for the local (or global) environment.
In America, the citizens of Newport, Wisconsin managed to fight off plans by Perrier to build a plant extracting 500 gallons of water per minute.
The company shifted its bottling plant plans to Michigan, where the locals also defeated it.
The Carbon Cost
Currently the industry is estimated to use around 2.7 million tonnes of plastic. On top of this is the transport cost in fossil fuel use to move their product around the globe.
Even though most plastic bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which is easily recyclable, the number of bottles recycled is thought to be at best about 50% (in places like Europe where there are strong recycling schemes).
Only about 7% get turned back into bottles
The waste plastic produced in empty bottles and wrapping materials is often incinerated, releasing yet more toxic substances into the atmosphere, or it gets buried in landfill sites.
The plastic which is recycled is often sent on a long trip to China (as is an estimated 40% of US recycled plastic), with further environmental cost in both transport and unregulated disposal - and probably adverse human health effects - at the other end of the journey.
To summarise, there are a number of valid reasons to avoid bottled water, namely:
- Extraction causes local shortages and can damage the ecosphere, depriving both humans and other organisms of its essential life-giving properties.
- Transport – the water is often carried long distances, involving huge consumption of fossil fuels
- Packaging – again this involves massive consumption of fossil fuels, whether in glass or plastic
- Waste – there is an inevitable mountain of waste produce by all these empty, disposable containers.
What Happens to the Plastic bottles in the Oceans
They cause an horrible mess. There isn't a shoreline on the most remote desert islands in the world that isn't littered with washed up plastic bottles.
They are harmful to animals.
They eventually get broken down into micro-plastics which end up in the food chain.
Research at Ghent University, Belgium found that if you eat seafood you'll ingest up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic every year. (Source BBC)
There are urgent concerns for human health.
“The plastic pollution crisis rivals the threat of climate change as it pollutes every natural system and an increasing number of organisms on planet Earth". Hugo Tagholm, Surfers Against Sewage
Sadly the Big Companies Don't Seem to Care
The biggest drinks brands create the most plastic bottles.
Coca-Cola sells more than 100 Billion plastic bottles every year
The top six drink providers only use about 7% of recycled PET in their products even though making bottles out of 100% recycled plastic uses 75% less energy than creating new bottles.
In fact the bottles could fairly easily be made out of "RPet" 100% recycled plastic.
But the big brands don't want to for purely for cosmetic reasons because RPet might make the plastic look a bit cloudy. They want clear shiny bottles.
Use once and throw it into the ocean. Nice!
Some good news! Not all big business is behaving badly. Selfridges, the major UK department store, has banned all plastic bottles as part of its "Project Ocean" campaign.
Other Things to Bear in Mind
- Bottled waters cost, on average, around 10,000 times more than filtered tap water
- Convenience: Normal tap or filtered tap water is available from the tap 24 hours every day of the year. Why drive to the supermarket to regularly buy what you really don't need? (Admittedly: concern about tap water quality drives bottled water sales in some parts of the world).
- Accountability: The public water supply companies are answerable to their political masters, and indirectly to us, the consumers. It is through this control process that the quality of tap water has improved on average year on year.
The bottled water providers are, however, only answerable to their shareholders, and as such, may have less respect for us, the consumers.
If you know someone who drinks a lot of bottled water try to help them kick the habit by buying them a kitchen water filter for their birthday.
You can buy entry level units for less than £30 on websites like this one. Or if they really want to go to town get a reverse osmosis water filter. Anyone who has tasted the water from one of these filters is unlikely to ever want to go back to the bad habit that is bottled water.
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