15 Outrageous Facts About The Bottled Water Industry

drinking bottled water

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 first documented case of selling bottled water was in Boston in the 1760s

Jackson's Spa took mineral water and sold it for therapeutic uses. Other later examples include the bottling of water in Saratoga Springs and Albany.

Global consumption of bottled water goes up 10 per cent each year.

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.

America is now drinking more bottled water than milk or beer.

The U.S. drank 9 billion gallons of bottled water in 2008, at an average of 30 gallons per person.

In California, tap water costs around one tenth of a cent per gallon, while bottled water is 0.90 cents a gallon

That makes tap water 560 times less expensive than bottled water.

To manufacture demand, beverage companies declared war on tap water through advertising

'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

47.8% (in 2009), to be exact.

Heavy hitters like Pepsi's Aquafina (in 2001, 13 per cent of the market) and Nestle Pure Life were forced to change their labels a few years ago to accurately describe where their water came from: public water sources.

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).

In scientific testing, bottled water was found to be no safer than tap water

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.'

Fear of tap water is part of the reason for the bottled water surge. Sometimes the fear is founded, but well over 90 per cent of our tap water is deemed safe on a state and federal level.

In taste tests, tap water consistently ranks at or above the level of bottled 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

For a product that claims to be environmentally responsible, the bottled water industry does more than its fair share of planet trashing. The amount of oil used to make a year's worth of bottles could fill one million cars for a year, and more water is used in making the bottle than filling 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 has quickly become the number two consumer of bottled water in the world

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.

The 2011 global forecast called for over $86 billion in profits

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.

Want more examples of the power of water?

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