Why bottled water spells environmental disaster

Next time you're feeling thirsty, why not just turn on the tap? Our obsession with bottled water makes neither economic nor environmental sense, says Garry White.

The best sort of product that you can make if you want to make money is disposable, with packaging being the ultimate money maker: just ask the Rauslings.

I have been astounded at the environmental disaster that is the bottled water industry for some time. This area has generally been ignored by the sandal-wearing tofu munching brigade until now

Regular readers will remember that I was astonished at the price of water when I woke up jetlagged and thirsty in a hotel room in Vancouver earlier this year. The tiny bottles of water in the minibar were C$7 a piece; that's an astonishing £3.37 for half a litre in real money. Needless to say, I headed straight for the tap

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Apart from the price, there was something more outrageous the water was a bottle of Evian... which, as you know, comes from France

I was in Canada

Just think the energy that it took to get the water out of the ground to make the plastic bottle to drive it to the airport then fly it half way around the world. It's staggering. No wonder the thing cost 7 bucks.

In order to get some cheap non-French water I went to the 7-11 around the corner and bought a bottle of Whistler Water for around a dollar. Whistler Water is made by melting snow from the mountains around the ski resort and shipping it 75 miles down the road to Vancouver. It tasted just as good as the Evian stuff and it did not have to fly over an ocean of water to get there.

The hidden cost of our bottled water obsession

The environmental cost is not just in terms of transport pollution; extraction also drains key aquifers.

In India, Coca-Cola has been in dispute with many villages which accuse it of using up water in their natural aquifer faster than it can be replaced. It has also been accused of polluting their water supplies. Similar situations have been seen in Texas.

According to the Earth Policy Institute it would take less than a third of the annual amount spent by consumers on bottled water ($100 billion) to achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015.

Of course the industry denies that it is raping the environment for its own gains. A couple of weeks ago, Stephen Kay of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) argued that any focus on bottle water by people concerned with the environment was distorting the issue.

He said "Consumers are not uniformly replacing tap water with bottled water; rather they are choosing bottled water over the other beverages available at the store and home."

Instead of concentrating on a consumers' beverage choice Kay thought environmental pressure groups should focus on ensuring that recycling targets for packaging were being met.

Any easy change to make

I disagree We should all stop drinking bottled water and we should stop now.

We are all going to have to cut back on our energy consumption in the next decade, but we can do what is necessary without ruining our lives if we think about it correctly. We can still drive cars, we can still go on foreign holidays but only if we make savings elsewhere. It appears to me that bottled water is the first place to start. It is unnecessary it is expensive... it is polluting and flying it around the world is just plain stupid.

Next time you are thirsty, don't reach for the bottle of mountain-filtered spring water in a flashy bottle. Head for the tap and pour yourself a glass of corporation pop. It makes total financial and environmental sense.

This article is taken from Garry White's free daily email Garry Writes'.