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2010/11/10

It’s water, but not as we know it – Part 2

In Part 1 of this article we put ourselves in the drinks aisle of a supermarket to make the point that all the drinks in the aisle are the result of the process of bottling water.

So let’s go back to the supermarket and take another look. As you can easily see the shelf space allocated to soft drinks, sports drinks, iced tea, mixers, etc., is far in excess of that allocated to bottles of natural spring water or filtered water. The point that needs to be made here is that all these drinks, with the exception of energy drinks, are sold in plastic bottles. Some also come in glass or cans, but plastic bottles dominate the shelves.

Yet time and time again, the argument put forward by people or organizations opposed to ‘bottled water’ is that natural spring water or filtered water bottles are clogging our gutters and waterways, littering our parklands and beaches, ending up in landfill rather than being recycled.

However, the statistics on recycling do not differentiate between natural spring water bottles and soft drink bottles or sports drink bottles. Why? Because they are all PET type bottles which are recycled in the same manner.

So what we see are headlines such as Bottled Water – The New Eco-Disaster1 for an article that begins: “Australians’ love affair with bottled water has left environmentalists worried about the toll on the planet.”

The headline and first line both target ‘bottled water’. But then, because no recycling statistics are available for water bottles alone, the article changes tack and continues like this, “With 65 per cent of plastic drink bottles ending up in landfill, they are calling for better recycling services.’

Basically we’re back to the whole drinks aisle in the supermarket.

Here’s another example. An article entitled “Bottled Water or Bottled Environmental Damage?”2 written for Green Magazine and posted on The Greens website and also on Rambling Thoughts Blog in 2008.

“However, the most devastating cost to the environment is the disposal of used bottles. Whether dumped into landfill or dropped as litter, the increasing number of water bottles is a growing problem. Approximately 70% of plastic drink bottles end up in landfill and take up to 1000 years to biodegrade.”

We’re back in the supermarket aisle again.

Clean Up Australia do the same thing in a paper entitled “Bottled Water” dated May 20103. Under the heading Environmental Impacts – In landfill and the litter stream, the article states: “Although plastic bottles are recyclable many end up in landfill and take up to 1000 years to break down.”

There are many more examples available where the target is the natural spring water or filtered water industry, however when the facts or statistics are not available these waters are conveniently lumped in with all other drinks in plastic bottles.

So why is there so much negativity toward the bottling and sale of natural spring water or filtered water?

One reason could be that these waters are more visible than other ‘waters’. One of the great things about bottled water is its convenience. It can be taken anywhere and consumed anywhere. In fact it’s very hard to think of a place where bottled water can’t be consumed. Consequently plastic water bottles are seen everywhere and perhaps the perception is that there are more of them than any other drink in plastic bottles. Of course this is simply not true.

However the most likely reason is this. There is a mindset about water being a freely available resource.Turn on the tap at the sink, it’s there. Go to the drinking fountain in the park, it’s there. Ask someone for a glass of water, it’s no trouble. So the argument in broad terms is that we shouldn’t have a bottled water industry at all because we don’t need one.

Surely though, the same environmental issues that are put forward against bottled water apply to all drinks sold in plastic bottles.

For example, the other environmental argument which is regularly put up against bottled water is the waste of energy and resources in the manufacturing process. However, the same energy and resources are used to produce all the drinks in your supermarket aisle.

It makes perfect sense to a large manufacturer of soft drinks to extend their product offering into the ‘bottled water’ category because the process of bottling natural spring water or filtered tap water is exactly the same as for the soft drink. Their bottling machinery will keep running and they will continue to buy plastic bottles and bottle caps regardless of what is going into the bottle.

The big benefit for them is the lower cost because they don’t have to spend any money on sugar or flavours or colours. Their distribution costs don’t change either because the truck that was going out to deliver soft drink now takes water as well. Water becomes just another product line.

Ultimately the argument about bottled water is a highly emotive one that is really about the commercialisation of a resource that is freely available. Unfortunately, like many arguments these days, the lines that separate information from misinformation become blurred and the real issues become lost.

One such issue is that of health. Of all the drinks available from your local supermarket, water is clearly the healthiest option. A cool, fresh natural spring water, free of additives and preservatives, is far and away a better choice than soft drink and any attempt to remove that choice should concern us all.

1. Bottled Water – The new eco-disaster, The Age, 6 February 2006

 

 

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