Water, water every where and not a drop to drink or as is currently the case more than a drop to drink. In this instance I am not referring to parts of the West Country that have recently been under water, or to the fact it seems to have borne out the old adage about raining forty days after St Swithins (for younger readers that’s a pagan date in the calendar)! No, what I have been looking at this week is the size and growth of the bottled water market and the impact it has on our energy consumption. At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly it is fair to say that criticism from the environmental lobby has to date had little or no impact on the growth of the bottled water market which, according to Mintel, now stands at 1.7 million litres or £1.6 billion in the UK alone, with volumes expected to reach 2¼ million litres in the foreseeable future. Worryingly much of this increase is due to strong growth in the 11 to 16 year old age group.
So what is the problem? Well think about it logically – why we would want to use up precious energy boring for, sourcing, bottling and transporting a resource that for the vast majority of the country is pumped into their home in plentiful, clean supplies. I am not talking here about the variants; the flavoured waters, at least relatively to soft drinks, have some raison d’être. I am talking about the still stuff. There was a time when concerns existed about the quality of water coming out of the taps so you can see why this market was launched. However, evidence from the Drinking Water Inspectorate and all the reports from the European Union tell us that the quality of tap water is getting better and better, which should mean – in theory – there is even less reason for buying and drinking the stuff. I have even come across a brand this week that is flown all the way from Fiji.
So what are the justifications given for bottled water? Well, the health lobby recommend that each of us should drink eight glasses of water a day – something which I very much doubt many of us are acting on!! There is also the suggestion that bottled water is a good thing because it helps to crowd out sugar laden soft drinks. But it just seems that no one has calculated – not that I can find anyway – the enormous energy costs to this market.
What is interesting is that it has no traction on the over 50’s who seem to have very little interest in bottled water preferring the stuff from the tap. So is this another case of unintended consequences of the health debate impacting on the environment? And is it just me or should we do something about it by drawing people’s attention to the contradictions?