The new public enemy: bottled water

It's a hugely beneficial liquid in a slim cylinder of plastic, but for US environmentalists, it is the new public enemy number one: bottled water.

by: AFP | 15 Aug 2007

With US bottled water sales growing nearly 10 percent annually and the trash from tossed containers climbing just as quickly, calls for Americans to go back to drinking tap water have surged since the beginning of summer.

"This country has some of the best public water supplies in the world," the New York Times said in an editorial earlier this month. "Instead of consuming 15 billion litres of water a year in individual-sized bottles, we need to start thinking about what all those bottles are doing to the planet's health."

As was pointed out at World Water Week in Stockholm on Monday, US personal consumption per capita, including water from all sources, hits 400 litres each day, compared to 10 litres a person in developing countries.

And US consumers are drinking more bottled water by the day. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, growth in bottled water sales last year was 9.7 percent, making the total market worth about 11 billion dollars.

At the end of July beverage giant PepsiCo was forced by public pressure to explain on its Aquafina bottled water why the contents inside come from a tap. Pepsi's response "is an important first step," said Gigi Kellett, director of the "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign. "Concerns about the bottled water industry, and increasing corporate control of water, are growing across the country," she said.

From mineral springs or from public pipes, water once in a bottle is expensive. The New York Times estimated that for some consumers the bill could hit $1, 400 a year, for an amount that, taken from a home faucet, might cost less than half a dollar. And it is not always better.

"Bottled water sold in the United States is not necessarily cleaner or safer than most tap water, according to a four-year scientific study," the National Resources Defense Council recently reported. It also said regulation has not guaranteed more pure water in bottles.

Feeling they were at the centre of the target, bottled water producers went on the defence last week, in part arguing that bottled water helps liberate consumers from calorie-heavy sweet sodas.

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