Breaking the bottled water habit

G Magazine

Our bottled water addiction is bad for the planet. So how can we break the habit?

water bottles

Credit: iStockphoto

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You know that bottled water craze is in full swing when restaurants offer a separate water menu. On a recent dining experience, my eyes scanned past prices of $8, $9, $12 for a vessel of water from some of the world's highest, snowiest, or simply most exotic-sounding locales. I was rendered incapable of speech.

Turning on the tap at home for a late evening drink, I felt ripped off.

According to Clean Up Australia's figures, I was: if you spent $2.50 on a 600 mL bottle of water, and drank it, you could refill that bottle once a day for a staggering eight and a half years with tap water before it cost you $2.50.

I'm not the only one who has begun noticing that good old H2O has had an extreme makeover. Across the globe, populations are screwing up their noses at turning on the tap; we now prefer our water packaged, labelled, and most importantly, branded.

With annual global sales estimated at $60 billion worldwide ($385 million in Australia last year alone), the bottled water industry has been booming for the last 10 to 15 years. The modern boom seems to have begun in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when individuals became increasingly obsessed with their personal wellbeing.

According to a report by the UK's alliance for better food and farming, Sustain, global sales of bottled water increased by almost 250 per cent between 1994 and 2002.

We now have more than 30 brands easily available to most Australian consumers, we're deluged with choice, and there's scope for every one of us to become a bottled water connoisseur.

But before you lift your next bottle to your lips, it's worth unscrewing the lid on this modern mega industry: how does it affect our environment, our health, and our wallet?

Could oil and water actually mix?

While it's unlikely we kid ourselves bottled water is environmentally advantageous, most of us are still missing the connection between bottled water and two of today's biggest environmental concerns: oil and carbon emissions.

Typically, bottled water is sold in soft plastic PET bottles. PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate, and it's made from two main ingredients: PTA (terephthalic acid) and MEG (monoethylene glycol). Both are derived from crude oil.

Our current thirst for bottled water is leaving an undeniably oily footprint: the 250 million litres of bottled water drunk by Australians in 2006 took a whopping 456,131 barrels of oil to produce, and according to the Department of Environment and Climate Change, created 60,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions through production and transportation.

Of course, the further your bottle travels, the bigger its environmental footprint. According to the Australasian Bottled Water Institute, around five per cent of Australia's bottled water comes from overseas.

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