Written by Steve Last
Bottled water just looks so refreshing on the supermarket shelves, and huge quantities are sold. But are we deluding ourselves to think that it is better than tap-water, and what are the health and environmental (including climate change) consequences?
I am sure that when most of us pick up a bottle of water in the supermarket we think that we are buying a purer and healthier product than we would be getting if we drank from the tap. But, is that really true, or are we all falling for the perception of superior health and purity which the bottled spring-water marketers would like us to believe?
A group of experts in the UK thinks that EU tap-water is best. They have gone on record to point out that tap-water in European Union, where the drinking water supplied by our water utility companies is all regulated under the same very high standards set by EU Directives, is better monitored and regulated than bottled water, and is likely to be better for you.
While it is true that EU Regulations do now also set quality standards for all bottled water, there are still no rigourous labelling requirements. Bottled water labelling is insufficent to enable people to judge for themselves from a standardised set of information, whether the bottle they drink is either purer or less so than tap water, or indeed how it compares with other similar products.
Also, when it comes to considering purity it should be noted that the purest water is distilled water, but nobody suggests that distilled water is the healthiest. When compiling the EU Drinking Water standards this was recognised, and as a result water sources which do not, are improved. For example, for healthier living the water we drink should contain a certain amount of calcium, so very “soft” waters are improved during the treatment stage by the addition of recognised healthy minimum quantities of calcium, from natural sources.Use your own water bottles and fill them at home.
Not only is potable water from the tap subject to stringent quality controls, anyone with internet access can very quickly and simply view information of the current quality their supply, including actual test data. They can see, for example, bacteriological and chemical content, and all this is available completely free of charge at the UK Drinking Water Inspectorate website (www.dwi.gov.uk).
Bottled water is also incredibly expensive. It is on average 500 times more expensive than drinking water. Nevertheless, we are buying it in huge amounts, and it is quite expensive to produce when you consider that the most highly promoted and most popular brands in the UK are French imports, entailing all the transport costs that this implies.
To quote the UK’s Executive Director of the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management (CIWM):-
“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 over-all levels of waste and pollution to be managed in modern society”.
Finally, to demonstrate the cost of bottled water, we have it from a good source that in 2004 the House of Commons spent over £11,000 (GBP) or $19,000 (US Dollars), on an amount which, if tap water, would have cost just £25 (GBP) or $44 (US Dollars).
* – Author’s Note: When outside the developed world it is, of course, safest to use bottled water. In fact, it is considered best by the Drinking Water inspector, to buy bottled water and add a disinfectant or boil the water – unless of course you are an expert and know that the local source is wholesome.