True cost of your bottle of water
There’s one thing I just don’t get: bottled water.
Let’s call it ‘water-to- go’ – water in small plastic bottles bought at the store to sip at our leisure. It’s a phenomenon in developed countries for people with plenty of disposable income and enterprising businesses happy to separate them from it.
Bottled water is back in the news of late, what with New Zealand quite happy to provide product to those enterprising businesses at virtually no cost (but that’s a topic for another time).
Worldwide bottled water sales topped $215 billion in 2015. We’re certainly taken with it in New Zealand. But why? It can’t be because it’s good value. Let’s say you live where council charges for water by volume and the cost is $1.40 per cubic metre (or 1,000 litres).
And let’s say the cost of a litre bottle of water is $1.40 (mid-range in the supermarket survey I did). This puts the price of the bottle one thousand times more than tap water. Not a bad mark-up if you can get it! Especially given that bottled water is usually nothing more than filtered tap water or water from a spring or stream that provides tap water for the locals.
The cost of water from our council at a targeted rate – or pumped water from a bore on a rural property – is dramatically lower than water on a volume charge. This puts the mark-up for us on that prized bottle of water even higher. Drinking bottled water has been promoted as fashionable, even cool.
It’s all about ‘‘manufactured demand’’ as Annie Leonard says in The Story of Bottled Water (8-minute video, view it out on YouTube).
Bottled water has also been touted for its convenience. But what could be easier than turning on the tap?
Fill a bottle at home and take it with you. Refill it whenever you run out. But there’s been a backlash due to growing concern for the environmental impact of the product. Peter Gleick, an internationally-respected water scientist, has looked at the energy required to bring bottled water to market, with manufacture of the plastic bottles and transportation the main villains.
Bottom line: bottled water is 1000 to 2000-times more energy intensive than tap water production. This is depending on the distance it travels from source to store shelf.
Then there’s the getting-rid-ofit part. Given our low recycling rates in New Zealand (another topic for another time), a good two-thirds of the empty plastic bottles will end up in the landfill, taking up valuable space for 500 years. One plastic bottle hardly matters. But the many billions produced, transported, used and discarded worldwide each year come with a cost.
Saying ‘‘no’’ to bottled water can be one small part of saying ‘‘yes’’ to a brighter future. It all adds up.
Gord Stewart is an environmental sustainability consultant and rural property owner in the district.