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It’s time to tap and go – for enviro action on the run

In America alone, every year, more than 38 million water bottles end up in landfill. Photo Hans Braxmeier – Pixabay.

Mandy Nolan

When I was a kid there was no such thing as bottled water. Water lived in the tap. Everyone drank tap. You turned it on, and water came out. It still does apparently. You’d put it in a glass. Or a cup. Or you filled up an empty cordial bottle and bunged it in the fridge. You didn’t buy water at the shops.

If someone had told me that the annual revenue in Australia from bottled water in 2019 was going to be in excess of US$988 million I would have said you were nuts – that’s like selling air. If you can get that in a bottle and find a way to get it to market it’s probably the next product boom.

Water for all

How have we allowed corporations to commodify what should be a common and shared resource? Water flows through aquifers, into creeks and rivers… it falls freely from the sky – so how has it become one of the most profitable products on the market?

There’s a reason Coca-Cola sells water – it’s not because they’re into health products, it’s because they’re into healthy profits. Water is very very lucrative.

It’s not hard to market a product that is essential to human survival. Drinking bottled water can cost you around $346 per year, but if you’d used the same amount from the tap, it would have been 42 cents for the same period. The profit margin on bottled water ranges from 50–200 per cent. A $2 water bottle costs about 5 cents to make. That leaves a 4,000 per cent mark up.

World wide the bottled water industry generates more than $13 billion in revenue each year. The estimate to solve the global water crisis is just $10 billion. That still leaves the greedy corporations a tidy $3 billion.

And the bottle…

Did you know that 90 per cent of the cost of bottled water is the bottle itself? So basically, every time you buy bottled water you’re just paying for the plastic bottle. And 80 per cent of those bottles never get recycled. Most of them go into landfill. In America alone, every year, more than 38 million water bottles end up in landfill. 

It takes three litres of water to create one litre of bottled water. It takes 24,000,000 litres of oil to make the billions of bottles. Those bottles which take up to 1,000 years to break down.

I haven’t even got started on the ludicrous importing and exporting of bottled water in countries that already have bottled water.

Dreams in bottle?

So why do we drink bottled water when our water is safe to drink? Marketing. It’s not the water we’re drinking – it’s the marketing. We have somehow been convinced that the water in plastic bottles is better for us than the water from our taps.

Words like ‘spring’ and ‘Fiji’ create the expectation that we are purchasing plastic bottles of glorious purity. But did you know that 1/3 of bottle-water samples, when tested, showed some contamination? Contaminants like: benzene, mould, kerosene, tetrahydrofuran, fecal coliform and other bacteria, sanitiser, elevated choline, styrene, algae and glass particles have all been found in bottled water.

Yep glass and shit. I’d be staying away from that natural spring – it sounds more like someone’s done their bottling in a pub toilet.

This means bottled water is not purer or safer than tap – quite the opposite. Some bottled water actually is tap water that has been put in a plastic bottle. In fact Aquafina was one brand that was identified as coming from a ‘public water source’ just like your plain old tap water does. Apparently they give it a little extra filtering!

Far from being healthy, if you store water in plastic bottles for 10 weeks it contains a chemical that can disrupt human hormones. Do you know how long that water you’re drinking has been in that plastic bottle?

So if you want to do just one thing for the environment that’s quick and easy, and has a massive impact: stop buying water in plastic bottles! It will also save you money. It’s time to drain the multinational water-bottling cash springs. Shops could simply sell glass bottles and offer taps for refill everywhere.

New year’s resolution

Here’s a new year’s resolution we should all make: never buy water in plastic again. You want to be an environmental activist? Then you need to tap and go!


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Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

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