When your thoughts turn to water, do not bottle them up
Robin and Patricia Silver, The Home, Salts Mill, Saltaire, www. thehomeonline.co.uk
ASK ANYONE over the age of 50 and they’ll quickly tell you that there was a time when people didn’t walk around carrying a plastic water bottle.
In fact, mineral water was something of a rarity in Britain. It was invariably fizzy (now called “sparkling”) and always in a glass bottle. The brand leader was Perrier with its bulbous green shape and slightly salty taste and it was presented as a luxurious French accompaniment to life.
In the 1970s, sales were just a few drops but by the end of the 1980s, over 150 million bottles were being sold in Britain.
This was fuelled by advertising and marketing campaigns, a more outward looking European disposition (rather unfashionable at the moment) and the celebration of “design” in its worst possible format. The bottle itself was so popular that it was used as a flower vase in restaurants and at home.
Perrier sales collapsed after a contamination scare in 1992 but by then other brands from France and Italy had begun to proliferate and still water like Evian, Volvic and Panna became popular and today accounts for about 85 per cent of bottled water consumption. Later on, local British water brands began to appear.
In the 1970s, with the arrival of cheap European holidays, we were warned not to drink tap water on the Continent as it was unsafe and unhealthy. As a result, the metaphorical and real floodgates opened and by the 1980s mineral waters were commonplace as they became available in plastic bottles. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottles were lighter in weight, shatterproof and easier to carry and Evian water in particular caught on fuelled by its association with health and fitness, consumed cold after a work out.
Today the overwhelming concern is how to get rid of these bottles as it is estimated that they will take 450 years to degrade and in Britain alone, over 15 million bottles are dumped every day – that’s 5.5 billion bottles a year.
One answer has been to introduce re-usable bottles with built-in filters which can be filled with tap water. Even with designs by Philippe Starck and brands like Brita this has had a relatively slow take up probably because it requires a little effort and advanced planning.
Other countries have a “deposit” system where a bottle has an added cost that is refunded when it is returned. In Germany and Norway, it is claimed that 95 per cent of bottles are now returned and recycled since this measure was introduced.
This suggestion seems unlikely to be introduced in Britain despite a trial in Scotland and the obvious advantage that less litter is thrown into our streets. But here’s a completely different idea.
In the same way that you take a car to a garage to fill up with petrol when the level is low, how about taking your empty water bottle to a refilling station. This can preserve the brand identities of different water companies and encourage repeat business as the returning bottle could only be filled with the same brand of water that it originally contained. At the same time, this will reduce the ecological criticism of wastefulness. The dispensers could be in supermarkets (freeing up valuable shelf space), garages, shops, schools, universities and even bus stops. They could be operated without human involvement like some coffee machines. After all, this method is already used in some delicatessens where olive oil, balsamic vinegar and even wine bottles are refilled from large barrels.
Alternatively, as we are lucky enough to have such good water in this part of the world, we could just drink it straight from the tap. Simple!