Photo: Flickr – Irargerich
Water used to be free.In fact, it still is — at least in nations blessed with plentiful clean tap water like the U.S. — but that doesn’t stop the world from spending over $100 billion on bottled water a year.
This strange industry is exploding overseas as well.
Who got the idea to sell us something we can get for free? And how did it get so popular that now more than half of Americans drink it?
The slowest growth is in Europe, where commercial bottled water -- like Perrier -- has been around for centuries. Faster growth can be seen in places like Asia and South America, but North America still leads the pack in total consumption.
In California, tap water costs around one tenth of a cent per gallon, while bottled water is 0.90 cents a gallon
'The biggest enemy is tap water,' said a Pepsi VP in 2000. 'When we're done, tap water will be relegated to irrigation and washing dishes,' said Susan D. Wellington of Quaker Oats, the maker of Gatorade.
But its more than just words: Coca-Cola has been in the business of discouraging restaurants from serving tap water, and pushing 'less water and more beverage choices.'
A report by Food And Water Watch says that almost half of all bottled water is derived from tap water
Tap water -- which is EPA regulated -- undergoes testing for e. coli, is required to provide its source and produce quality reports
Bottled water, on the other hand, doesn't have to meet any of those standards to be distributed.
Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration regulates bottled water and its standards pale in comparison to the EPA's for the tap. A few examples of this include: less frequent bacteria testing, no mandatory reports of violations to federal officials, and no filtration or disinfection requirements on the federal level (while many states have no meaningful programs of their own).
According to the National Resources defence Council, most bottled water is of good quality. But does that make it better than tap water? The most recent tests by the NRDC tested 103 bottled waters and showed the following:
- Nearly one in five tested waters contained, in at least one sample, more bacteria than allowed under microbiological-purity 'guidelines'
- Four waters (4 per cent) violated the generally weak federal bottled water standards (two for excessive fluoride and two for excessive coliform bacteria
- In eight cases arsenic was found in at least one test at a level of potential health concern.
In conclusion: '...there is no assurance that bottled water is any safer than tap water.'
The production of water bottles uses 17 million barrels of oil a year, and it takes three times the water to make the bottle as it does to fill it
Of the 30 billion plastic water bottles sold in the United States in 2005, only 12 per cent were recycled.
According to Doug James, a professor of computer science and computer graphics at Cornell University and a recycling advocate, that left 25 billion bottles 'landfilled, littered or incinerated.'
And recycled bottle plastic can only be re-used in non-food products.
Essentially, there is no way for bottled water to be as environmentally responsible as tap water.
China drank roughly eight billion litres in 2000, and just under 21 billion litres in 2009, according to Zenith International.
Many regions of the world lack access to clean drinking water, and bottled water is the only safe alternative. Companies know this and have been cleaning up in countries like China, Pakistan and India in recent years.
That includes sparkling flavored water, sparkling unflavored water, still flavored water and still unflavored water. A very impressive number considering a similar product comes basically free from the kitchen sink.
Though more people are opting for the tap, the coming water wars can only help the booming bottled water industry
Some people and restaurants are getting behind tap water and realising the cost of bottled water on their wallet and the world.
But here in the U.S., there's still a long uphill battle against preconceived notions and tap water myths. And globally, the scarcity of quality public water, combined with growing demands, means an even bigger market for the bottled water giants of the world.
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