Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


Bottled Water – Eau No! (Feb08)

“I’ve been drinking bottled water for 30 years and I’ll go on doing it until the day I die” said one caller to the Radio 5 phone-in I was participating in. The debate was supposed to be about whether it is immoral to drink bottled water. Actually, most of the callers were more concerned with whether bottled water tasted better than tap water or not.

And the lady from the Bottled Water Industry Association seemed to have a religious conviction that everyone should have a choice. I certainly wasn’t arguing that we shouldn’t be able to choose. My point was that wherever possible we should choose tap water over bottled.

So what’s wrong with bottled water? Well the real issue is that it’s completely crazy to be transporting water and packaging all over the place – sometimes from the other side of the world – when we’ve got good quality stuff available from the tap. Water is heavy. Large quantities of fuel are used to transport it.

Yet more is used to make the packaging. Glass water bottles are even worse than plastic because they’re heavier and so even more fuel is used to transport them. And don’t be fooled into thinking that they’re more recyclable – they’re not. Actually in percentage terms you save more fuel from recycling a plastic bottle than a glass one.

It takes seven litres of water to make a one-litre plastic bottle. And we throw away ten billion bottles a year. So it’s not just energy we’re wasting it’s water too….

One thing that is clear is that tap water in the UK is a safe and healthy option. Doesn’t it seem bizarre that we go to great efforts to make it drinkable but flush much of it down the loo, whilst lugging heavy water bottles back from the supermarket.

OK, tap water is safe but does it taste nice? Well the Panorama programme covering this issue brought together some professional wine tasters to get their views. They blind tested a whole range of waters, including Thames tap. None of them identified which it was and one even thought it was the most expensive bottled variety.

What many people don’t realise is that if you put water in a jug and leave it for a while, the chlorine evaporates. It also tastes better cool, so putting it in the fridge is a good idea. Equally, water filters can improve taste by removing impurities – including lead from old pipes.

At this point I have to admit that I do occasionally buy bottled water. I travel to London frequently on the train and don’t always remember to take a water bottle with me. But I always ask for tap water in restaurants and get very frustrated at business meetings and conferences when bottled water is the only option. Sometimes I get very thirsty because I don’t want to open a new bottle. Quite often there are loads of half empty bottles of water, which are simply discarded. On the Panorama programme they showed runners taking a quick sip from a water bottle and then chucking it into the street. What a waste….

Did you know that the carbon footprint of some brands of bottled water has been calculated to be at least 600 times greater than water from the tap?

So, this isn’t just a lifestyle choice, it’s a choice for a healthy planet. If we can’t even change our habits on such an easy issue what hope is there?

Some bottled water facts from National Geographic:

  • Americans are the biggest bottled water drinkers, consuming 7 billion gallons or 26 billion litres annually.
  • Mexico has the second highest consumption followed by China and Brazil
  • Italians drink the most per person with an average of about 2 glasses per day
  • Global consumption of bottled water doubled between 1999 and 2004
  • Worldwide about 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water
  • Making bottles to meet American demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, which is enough to fuel about 100,000 US cars for a year.


This article was originally published on Telegraph online.  


Comment Section

0 Responses

  1. When bottled water first came out, I remember dismissing it as an absurdity and expected everybody who invested in the industry to lose their shirts.

    To me, selling bottled water, when it was available through the tap free, was completely illogical.

    Shows how good was my judgement, eh?

    However, there is a fundamental issue at stake here and I have to confess that I’ve been having trouble getting my head around over the last few days.

    Here’s the issue.

    Since resources in our society are primarily allocated to products and services according to economic factors such as price mechanism, viability of marketing and sales package and availability of raw materials, how do we stop the most absolute rubbish being marketed and sold?

    Chucking away our market forces capitalistic model can’t be the answer. It’s been tried in Russia, Cuba et al and it doesn’t work.

    This issue effects everyone in our society too.

    Are we all to stay on this economic tread mill, not because we haven’t enough of what we need, but because our society would crumble around us unless we continue inventing yet more spurious products and services to keep our economy growing (aromatherapy, reflexology?).

    I don’t pretend to know a better method of determining what is produced than ‘let the market forces prevail’ but I certainly think we should be looking for one.

    The problem is that the issue really goes to the roots of our Western civilization and our vision of the world we want to build.

    Gambling is a good example of an activity that has excellent economic credentials. It is obviously wanted by many, is easily marketed and very profitable.

    Yet it causes so many problems and gives so little in the long run to people who participate in the activity and takes so much.

    During the debate about liberalisation of gambling in the UK I have taken a strong anti-gambling stance on my gambling blog but sometimes I have felt I was the only one in the crowd saying the Emperoror isn’t wearing any clothes.

    I suppose, ultimately, the way we operate is according to the economic price mechanism but moderated by our societies values and ethics.

    It works – sort of – but I can’t help but believe there must be something better.

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