Experts query environmental cost of bottled water

Posted: 15 November 2005

In the week when the House of Commons, home of the British parliament, was shown to be spending over £11,000 (US$20,000) on bottled water last year - water that would have cost only £25 out of the tap - experts have questioned the quality, labelling, advertising and environmental cost of the bottled stuff.

Commenting on the findings of a new report from the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), its Director, Nick Reeves, said that "Branding and bottling of water where there already exists a wholesome and safe supply of mains drinking water cannot be seen as a sustainable use of natural resources, and adds to the overall levels of waste and pollution to be managed in modern society."

Potable water from the tap in the UK is subjected to stringent quality controls,he said, and the public is easily able to access information about its bacteriological and chemical content.

This can be done,for example, from the Drinking Water Inspectorate website (www.dwi.gov.uk). Its price is subject to rigorous control and is, on average, 500 times lower than that of bottled waters.

CIWEM says that bottled water is being consumed in huge amounts by the public, yet its labelling is not required to reflect its chemical and bacteriological content and, while some companies choose to disclose this information, others do not and it is not mandatory that they should make such information publicly available.

It points out that while EU Regulations now set quality standards for all bottled water, there are still no labelling requirements to enable people to judge for themselves from a standardised set of information whether the beverage is suitable for their nutritional needs, nor how it compares in various respects to similar products and to tap water.

False perception

Nick Reeves added that "Bottled water marketing has driven a public perception of such products as purer or healthier than water from the tap. Such perceptions are unfounded and can lead to undesirable consequences: for example, the high mineral content of some bottled waters makes them unsuitable for feeding babies and young children."

In the UK, statutory Regulations set specific standards for waters that wish to be labelled as suitable for use in making up infant formula. However, unsuitable waters are not required to display this fact, he said.

CIWEM says there are a whole range of environmental costs associated with bottled waters. These include the impacts of abstraction on the local environment, packaging of the product, resource use and pollution resulting from transportation of bottled waters, and disposal of the waste packaging once the water has been consumed.

CIWEM's Policy Position Statement on Bottled Water, and the Institution's recommendations, can be found online at www.ciwem.org