What's in a bottle?

What's in a bottle?

2 November, 2012
Bottled messages
Eco impacts of bottled water

With the rise of Asia’s middle classes, seasonal droughts, and dirty tap water, often from contamination from lead and copper content in pipes, the consumption of bottled water has been growing steadily. But just how necessary is bottled water? What are the negative impacts brought about by the production, consumption and disposal of bottled water?
The consumption of bottled water is predicted to reach 280 billion litres annually by 2012. Between 2002 and 2007, the world consumption of bottled water jumped by 7.6% from 130.95 billion litres to 188.8 billion litres. The United Arab Emirates consume the most bottled water per capita at 259.7 litres per person per year. The tremendous growth of bottled water sales in Asia can be aptly described as a blue gold rush. The Global Bottled Water Report from Zenith International noted a 4.5% growth of bottled water sales in 2008 with a predicted 18% rise over the next 3 years. There are currently more than 2000 bottled water producers in India. Consolidation of water bottling companies is expected to grow by 100% in 5 years alone in India. A recent report from McKinsey points out that this symbol of middle class luxury in US and Europe is spreading in China. By 2011, there will be 350 million in China that will be considered middle class. The report predicts that unconstrained urban water demand will grow 3% annually to 133 billion m^3 in 2030 as the middle class rises from 4% in 2005 to 56% of the population by 2030. Compared to 2002, there was a 17.5% jump in bottled water consumption in China in 2007.
A UN survey of tap water in 11 provinces in China shows that more than half have unacceptable levels of bacteria, which makes people turn to bottled water. On the other hand, in 2009, a study done by the Consumer Council in Hong Kong showed that most of the tested samples of bottled water are not more hygienic than tap water. With the lack of regulation of water quality standards in bottled water, just how much better is this innocuous looking H2O? Add to this problem the environmental impacts of bottled water, including production, transportation, disposal, and recycling - all environmental costs that are little considered in many parts of the world. Not only does the plastic bottle exacerbate the problem of lack of space in landfills, plastic bottles are made from the by-products of oil, adding to the problem of climate change and peak oil. From a health perspective, chemicals can leach into the drinking water from plastics used to create the bottle, such as bisphenol A (BPAs). From a social perspective, when companies go into areas to gain excess to water, the issue of privatization of local resources can lead to communities being dependent on corporations to gain basic necessities such as clean water as water extraction near bottling plants can lead to water shortages.
Life Cycle Analysis of the water bottle Production: It takes a great deal of energy to form polyethylene terephthalate resin into bottles. There’s also the outer packaging needed to make sure the water bottle is still in proper form at the point of sale.
Transportation and Distribution: Moving the bottled water from factory to warehouses to stores eats up oil and energy, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions. As well, at each stop or storage point, energy is required for lighting, cooling or heating.
Disposal: The water bottle will most likely end up in the garbage can and then the landfill. Though some people like to reuse bottles, this can pose a health hazard, especially when the plastic is heated and chemicals leach into the water. According to the International Bottled Water Association, a number of steps have been taken by bottled water companies to reduce the environmental impacts of bottled water. For example, there is a reduction in plastic usage of bottles by companies such as Nestle, which is the world’s largest bottler. Others have turned to the bio-materials, such as using plastic from biodegradable corn. Some companies, such as Resource, have created donation structures that contribute part of their sales to local recycling programs. Looking beyond the bottle, there are a number of alternatives for the consumer, such as using tap water that has been filtered and bringing a simple stainless steel water bottle with you for convenience. There’s also the drinking fountain, which was around long before plastic. The UK is experimenting with water stations known as HydraChill Stations for people to fill up their water bottles at public transit locations. With the popularity of green buildings on the rise, accessing clean water is also a feature in environmentally friendly buildings. For example, an automated self-cleaning screen filter being installed at a building’s main water supply’s point of entry and point of use filters for each faucet has been recognized by the US Green Building Council, and can help developers and home builders get credit for their green building certification process. Dramatic, and effective, action against bottled water has been taken in some parts of the world. For example, a complete ban has been enacted on the sale of bottled water in Bundanoon, Australia. Toronto City Council has also implemented a similar ban on municipal premises.
Consider that it actually takes five litres of water to create a plastic bottle that holds one litre of water next time you reach out to grab a plastic bottle of water at a convenience store. With the variety of options available from high-tech filtering to simple water storage, it’s truly possible to make an impact with a small change of habit in this space.
Water glossary
Mineral and spring water: water from an underground source containing a higher amount of dissolved mineral salts and cannot be altered with chemicals
Bottled water: water from any source, distilled, carbonated or treated in any manner
Artesian water: water from a well that taps a confined aquifer
Sparkling water: carbonated water
Glacial water: water from a source directly from a glacier
Natural water: water obtained from an approved underground source that is untreated other than by filtration
Purified water: water produced by distillation, de-ionization or reverse osmosis with not more than 10mg/L of total dissolved solids
Image via: http://www.cs.cornell.edu/~djames/bottledWater/unrecycledWaterBottles200...

By: Ecozine Staff


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