"The bottled water industry is the triumph of marketing over common sense, it has become a symbol of our disposable culture at its dumbest." Joshua Blackburn, founder of Tap.
Over 650 million people in the world do not have access to reliably clean and safe drinking water. In many places people have to walk long distances to fetch water. Increasing demand means that rivers and underground reserves are running dry, so that by 2025 it's estimated that 3 billion people will be facing chronic water shortages.
Around 315,000 children under-five die every year from water-borne diseases - almost 900 children per day, or one child every two minutes.
In the UK on average each person uses 150 litres of water in the home each day, and in the USA over 570 litres. We have high quality clean water supplied on demand at the turn of a tap, but only about 2% is used as drinking water. We even flush our toilets and water our gardens with water fit to drink, yet in the UK in 2015 we spent over two and a half billion pounds on bottled water.
UK consumption of bottled water has more than doubled in the last 15 years, and is more than 100 times higher than in 1980, reaching almost 3.3 billion litres in 2015. Consumption per person is over 51 litres per year in the UK, and over 100 litres per head on average in Europe and America (Zenith International).
Worldwide 50 billion bottles of water are bought each year, and 80% of these mostly plastic bottles go to landfill.
The bottled water industry has made efforts to reduce environmental impacts by reducing the amount of plastic used to make bottles and increasing the use of recycled PET and new compostable and bio-degradable plastics. Many are now using up to 50% recycled material in their plastic bottles, and the recycling rate for single use PET plastic bottled water containers has doubled to 37% in the last ten years. It also takes less energy to produce PET containers than cans or glass (NAPCOR).
As responsible consumers we need to ensure that any plastic bottles we use are sent for recycling and never discarded as litter. Most plastic bottles never biodegrade but instead go through a process called photo-degradation where they are broken down by sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces, each of which are still plastic polymers. This process can take over 400 years or even up to a thousand years. (see also our post Plastics are forever). The vast majority of all plastics ever produced still exist somewhere, in the ocean, as litter, or in landfill. Plastic waste is now a huge problem in the world’s major oceans, presenting a great risk to marine life, killing birds and fish which mistake plastic debris for food.
Although there are times when it makes sense to buy bottled water, for the most part you could do yourself and the world a favour and save some money by drinking water from the tap. There are lots of reusable water bottles on the market, see a selection here on Amazon.
Get the ReFill app for your phone. ReFill is a scheme run by the water companies to make drinking water more freely available and cut plastic bottle use. They are building a network of premises such as cafés, hotels and restaurants in every major town and city in the UK. Visit refill.org.uk for more information. Other similar apps are Tap and Refillmybottle.
If you really can't face drinking water straight from the tap you could try investing in a simple filter jug which will remove the chlorine from your household supply and improve the taste. Most jugs of this type use non-refillable, plastic filters which must be replaced monthly. An exception which uses no plastic is the *black+blum eau carafe. This is a glass carafe with an active carbon filter made from tree branches. The filter reduces chlorine, mineralises the water and balances the pH. Each stick lasts for 3 months and can then be boiled for 10 minutes to recharge for 3 more months. They also make a *Charcoal Filter Water Bottle.
If you really must buy bottled water, try Belu which is natural mineral water sourced and bottled in Shropshire and supplied in glass bottles or in bio-bottles which are made from corn and are compostable. Belu is non-profit making and all proceeds go to Water Aid to fund water projects in drought-afflicted areas.
"It is another product we do not need. Bottled water companies are wasting resources and exacerbating climate change. Transport is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and transporting water adds to that. We could help reduce these damaging effects if we all simply drank water straight from the tap."
Dr. Michael Warhurst, Friends of the Earth's senior waste campaigner.