Some people think the world would be better off without bottled water. I believe the opposite.
They say bottled water is unnecessary and wasteful. Unnecessary because there is a direct substitute in tap water. Wasteful because of all the packaging and transport. There are also criticisms of comparative cost without real benefit.
These are all good arguments, but they could be levelled at almost any element of consumer choice.
My reasoning starts from the premise that all water is good. Drinking more water will do almost anyone more good. Whether from the tap or from a bottle. If we all drank more water, our minds would be clearer, our skin would be more supple, our organs would naturally flush out more toxins and our bodies would weigh less.
If you had to invent the perfect product for the 21st century, it would have to be water. Water is natural, healthy, calorie free and abundant.
Abundance, however, is not universal and nor is it without cost. Many regions of the world do not have adequate municipal supplies and bottled water is often part of the interim solution. In more developed countries, people still need hydration at work, at leisure or while travelling and bottled water provides that convenience.
Waste is an issue for the bottled water industry and it needs to do more in responding to increasingly widespread concerns. The full facts, I suspect, will favour bottled water more than its producers might imagine.
First, they waste very little water itself, less than any other beverage and way below other food or even non-food products. Secondly, they actually use only a tiny fraction of water resources in most areas. Third, natural mineral water is not treated at all and other waters are safeguarded by minimal purification. Tap water requires massive long term investment, all of it has to be treated, regardless of ultimate use, and leakages amount to many times the level of bottled water consumption.
Bottled water does use a lot of packaging and transport, but here too its record is among the strongest in industry. Most bottled water is sold at very low prices and is distributed only locally. It uses lighter weight materials than most other beverages and packaging is increasingly returned or recycled. The earliest biopackaging initiatives started with bottled water.
The number and volume of premium international brands is actually quite small. Is there any defence for them ? In my view, consumer choice is paramount within the bounds of social acceptability. And there are so many much more important concerns to address before this. If there is something wrong with buying a French bottled water outside France, that logic applies just as much to wine or coffee or bananas or toys or technology. Open and competitive free markets would fall apart if any one of these became a political football.
My last point is about benefit. Why pay hundreds of times more for bottled water when you can’t taste the difference and it is no healthier ? Well, some people can taste the difference and many bottled waters do contain a particular beneficial balance of minerals. You do at least know exactly where a natural mineral water has come from, that it is from a protected environment and that it has not been treated.
Personally, I enjoy all water and do not have a very discerning palate. There are many times when I buy a bottled water out of convenience or preference, but I drink a lot from the tap too. Increasingly, I expect I will pay more attention to products which tell me more about their environment and ethical credentials. If anyone wishes to stop me, then please look at the alternatives first.
Oh, and when there’s a natural disaster, what is always one of the first priorities for rescue teams ? Yes, quite.