bottled water: bad for environment but beverage makers want us to buy more
Have you seen what’s in the news lately? In our mission to Ban The Bottle, there are challenges along the way. Just last month, The House of Representatives announced that you can’t ban the sale of bottled water in certain areas.
Several major US national parks introduced a ban on bottled water sales in 2011 in an effort to cut waste. But a body called the International Bottled Water Association wasn’t impressed.
Dubbed “Big Water” by the US media, it lobbied for change and on July 7, an amendment was approved that would allow water to be sold in national parks again.
Big Water’s tactics were clever, bordering on very sneaky. It argued that national park visitors could be put at risk of dehydration and would buy more sugary drinks if they couldn’t buy water.
Never mind that the national parks had installed free, fresh water tanks at all major tourist spots. By appealing to public health and safety, up there near God and apple pie on the American moral scale, Big Water found sympathetic voices on Capitol Hill.
Here too in Australia, Big Water uses emotive, health-conscious language to encourage us to keep buying water in plastic bottles.
“As an industry, we promote more water consumption for Australians, full stop,” Geoff Parker, CEO of the Australian Beverages Council tells news.com.au.
“With our collective expanding waistlines, we need to be drinking water from any source, be that bubbler or tap or bottled water. Bottled water provides a relatively cheap, zero kilojoule convenient hydration option.”
Cheap, zero kilojoule hydration. Who could argue with that?
Terrie-Ann Johnson, that’s who. Mrs Johnson is CEO of Clean Up Australia.
Her clean-up crew pulls squillions of plastic water bottles out of waterways each year, and she says plastic bottles are just about the worst thing imaginable for the environment.
“A single use plastic bottle is made out of oil, so that’s a really poor use of a finite resource,” she said.
“They can be transported up to four times before you buy it, generally by truck, and then you go buy another one.
“Less than 30 percent of plastic bottles are recycled in most states.”
“A lot of people think they do their bit by refilling bottles, but those bottles are designed for single use. They’ve got PCBs [Polychlorinated Biphenyls] which are not good for you.”
PCBs are not good for anyone. They have even been discovered in plankton, which means they infiltrate the entire marine food chain. In short, plastic bottles make nobody healthy.
And in terms of price, there’s an old line about bottled water being twice as expensive as petrol per litre, which is true when it’s purchased in small quantities.
There’s also the not trivial fact that tooth decay is rising amomg younger Australians, which health experts say is due to people drinking bottled water instead of tap water, which contains fluoride.
But the beverage industry is desperate for us to keep drinking water out of plastic bottles and here’s why.
Soft drink sales are on the decline. The Beverage Council’s Geoff Parker confirms carbonated beverage sales have dropped proportionally for 15 years and declined in real terms by about five percent in the last five years.
Stepping into that void has been bottled water. By most estimates we spend around $500 million a year. Plough through the annual report of a company like Coca-Cola Amatil and you’ll see countless references to what they call the “high-growth water category.” It’s Coke’s big hope for the future.
For the record, America’s national parks are not the only people to ban plastic water bottle sales. Two weeks ago, UK supermarket chain Selfridges stopped selling them. The entire city of San Francisco announced in March plans to phase them out within four years. So far, Big Water lobbyists haven’t been able to overturn that one.
It’s good to see institutions setting an example, but we suspect real change will only occur from the groundwater up, if you’ll excuse the pun. The question is, are you thirsty for change?