The powerful lobby representing Australia’s water bottlers has jumped on Tweed Shire Council’s recent move urging people against buying bottled water because of its environmental harm.
In an extraordinary attack on council’s decision last month to stop stocking bottled water in council office vending machines, the Australasian Bottled Water Institute says such a ban could lead to obesity and other ‘chronic disease’ by forcing staff and visitors to other options ‘with more kilojoules’.
But council’s water manager Anthony Burnham today poured cold water on the attack, saying the whole intent of the article in council’s newsletter advising of the ban and urging people to drink tap water was to raise awareness of the issue with council ‘setting its own example’.
‘We have tap and chilled tap water available to our staff, therefore we’re not contributing to any health problems by taking this inititative, as water is readily available to staff,’ Mr Burnham told Echonetdaily.
The institute this week issued a release expressing its ‘disappointment’ to the move, saying that ‘as a nation ranked fourth in OECD countries for obesity, we should be encouraging people to drink more water from whatever source – bottle, bubbler or tap.’
In the release irreverently headed ‘Tweed Council’s bottled water ban = expanding waistlines’, the institute’s CEO, Geoff Parker, said ‘to ban bottled water from vending machines ‘defies logic’.
One of the major players in the lobby group is Coca Cola Amatil, whose Mount Franklin brand is the biggest selling bottled water in Australia.
In the newsletter article, council urged ‘residents to think twice before buying a bottle of water the decided not to stock water in its office vending machines for ‘many good reasons’.
Council water-unit officer Elizabeth Seidl said in the article that ‘Australia’s annual consumption of bottled water exceeds 600 million litres, even though Australians are able to drink some of the best tap water in the world.
Ms Seidl said the safety of the Tweed’s tap water ‘is equal to the best bottled water and better than most’.
She also said bottled water caused major environmental problems with discarded bottles creating ‘massive amounts of landfill and litter on our streets and beaches’.
‘Significant resources are also needed to bottle, transport and refrigerate water, especially if that water is imported from overseas,’ she said.
‘The manufacture of plastic water bottles squanders a non-renewable resource, oil, and the road and air miles generated by transporting bottled water are a significant generator of greenhouse gases.
‘The refrigeration needed for bottled water also causes emissions and bottled spring water can sometimes put unsustainable pressure on natural aquifers,’ she said.
But Mr Parker claims ‘the argument by a council representative that the Tweed region has great quality tap water and therefore they don’t need it in vending machines shows a misunderstanding by the council of consumer behaviour and the impact of obesity and chronic disease.
‘The council is denying employees and visitors to council offices choice. Whilst some countries might restrict choice and remove products from sale, Australia isn’t one of them. What’s next for people in the Tweed?’ he said.
‘Bottled water, which comes in a package that is 100 per cent recyclable, doesn’t compete with tap water but with all other bottled beverages it shares shelf space with, be that in the supermarket, local store or vending machine.
‘To remove bottled water from council vending machines and force people to other options with more kilojoules, in today’s society with 60 per cent of adults and one in four kids as either overweight or obese, is shameful.
‘The council needs to shoulder part of the blame for the expanding waistlines in the future and should be doing more to encourage healthy beverage consumption, not less, Mr Parker said.
Ms Seidl said that ‘in money terms, buying bottled water does not add up, as the price of bottled water is 1,000 to 2,000 times that of tap water on average.
‘In the Tweed, tap water costs $2.05 for 1000 litres while a 600mL bottle of water may cost as much as $3.50. This is an extraordinary mark up of about 285,000 per cent.
“Even if you purchase bottled water in bulk, you will still end up paying around $1.50 per litre which is still about 730 times the cost of our tap water,” she said.
“And for every 500mL bottle you purchase, it takes close to one litre of water to manufacture it.”
‘With tap water, we can always rely on the quality. With bottled water, the quality can be highly variable, depending on its source.
‘The Tweed’s tap water is tested weekly for a vast range of chemical and microbiological parameters, ensuring that it is always safe to drink.’