Bottled Water Has High Environmental Costs

Bottled Water Has High Environmental Costs

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) - Bottled water, the world's fastest growing beverage, carries a heavy environmental cost, adding plastic to landfills and putting pressure on natural springs, the author of a new report said on Thursday.

"Bottled water is really expensive, in terms of environmental costs and economically," said Ling Li, who wrote the report for the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.

While many in developed countries thirst for safety, cleanliness, taste and social cachet when they buy bottled water, more than 1 billion of the world's poorest lack access to clean drinking water, bottled or not.

And in developed countries, bottled water may be scrutinized using lower standards than plain tap water, the report said.

The environmental impact can start at the source, where some local streams and underground aquifers become depleted when there is "excessive withdrawal" for bottled water, according to the report.

In addition to the energy cost of producing, bottling, packaging, storing and shipping bottled water, there is also the environmental cost of the millions of tonnes of oil-derived plastic needed to make the bottles.

"The beverage industry benefits the most from our bottled water obsession," Ling said in a statement. "But this does nothing for the staggering number of the world's poor who see safe drinking water as at best a luxury and at worst an unattainable goal."

Worldwatch estimated 35 to 50 percent of urban dwellers in Africa and Asia lack adequate access to safe potable water.

Most water is bottled in polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which requires less energy to recycle and does not release chlorine into the atmosphere when burned. But recycling rates have declined: about 23.1 percent of PET water bottles were recycled in the United States in 2005, compared with 39.7 percent 10 years earlier, the report said.

Bottled water costs from 240 to 10,000 times as much as water straight from the tap. In dollars, that means such water sold in most industrialized countries costs $500 to $1,000 per 1 cubic metre (35.3 cu ft), compared with 50 cents per cubic metre in California, where the quality of tap water is high.

World consumption of bottled water more than doubled between 1997 and 2005, with the United States being the largest consumer. U.S. residents drank nearly 6.3 billion gallons (28.6 billion litres) in 2005, the report found.

Among the countries that use bottled water, India's consumption nearly tripled for the period, and China's more than doubled between 2000 and 2005. Mexico, Brazil, Italy, Germany, France, Indonesia and Spain round out the top 10.
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Corporations that sell bottled water are depleting natural resources, inflating prices, and lying when they tell you their water is purer and tastes better than the water that comes out of the tap. And Americans have been the unwitting targets of a grand campaign to make them believe that tap water is always substandard and bottled is always from a pristine flowing stream in the mountains of Maine untouched by man... and the reason for that deception should not be surprising...PROFITS.

In the past ten years the bottled water market has more than doubled in the United States becoming the second most popular beverage behind soda. Three out of four Americans drink bottled water, and spent $10 billion on bottled water last year alone which comes to an average of about 26 gallons per person. That's a lot of environmental degradation and landfill plastic just to have convenience and feel "safe" about a product that for the most part is no different than the water coming out of your tap.

Just as with the tobacco industy and the oil industy, the bottled water industry is spending tens of millions of dollars every year to undermine your confidence in tap water even though the water systems we rely on are better regulated than the bottled water industry. Tap water is regulated by the EPA which has strict guidelines regarding chemicals with testing by government agencies. Bottled water is regulated by the FDA with regulations that only apply to water that is bottled and transported between states. That leaves out a huge chunk of the water transported within states that have no guidelines attached to them with states many times leaving them to self police themselves.

Three companies control more than half the water market presently: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle. Both Coke and Pepsi exclusively use tap water for their source while Nestle uses tap water in some brands, and even though they make claims that it is filtered several times with the processes they use it is hardly state of the art and prone to the same dangers as any other product and people are paying dearly for it. These companies harm the environment by depleting underground water sources and damaging stream systems by using affiliate companies to bottle the water for a song as they mark it up exhorbitantly to make a profit. This while people in water scarce countries literally die of thirst. To me, this practice is totally immoral. That is because this misrepresentation about tap water prohibits proper funds from being alloted to update water systems, thus opening the door up to privitization. And that is something people must fight as those in Cochabamaba Bolivia did in 2000 when Bechtel sought to privitize their water.

The first step of course is to have water declared a global human right, and for people to become more aware of just what entity is overseeing their water system. At the frantic pace of population, the excelled pace of resources dwindling including glacier melt that is happening at an accelerated rate globally and drought due to climate change, and the continued wasteful practices of humans, we are headed for a crisis of untold proportions if we do not get a handle on it now. And that also means standing up to those who would dare use this crisis as a way to make a profit from it as people in developing countries dig ever deeper hoping for just one drink a day.

People are being hoodwinked into giving huge amounts of money to an industry that takes advantage of our environment and brings in more profits than the pharmaceutical industry. One hundred billion dollars could have done a lot to bring potable water to the over one billion people in this world now without it and fix the water systems here that need it.

Water is not a commodity it is a human right. It is time those companies exploiting that right know that we are not going to take it anymore.

My other writings on this:

Stand Up To Corporations That Kill

Globalization/Time To Take Action

Who Owns The Water?

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