Feature

Breaking the bottled water habit

water bottles

Credit: iStockphoto

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But PET's recyclable, right?

Theoretically, PET is recyclable. But only 35 per cent of Australia's plastic water bottles are currently recycled, according to the Australian Conservation Foundation(ACF). The rest end up as landfill or litter.

Last year's Clean Up Australia campaign found 37,400 PET bottles in NSW alone, and noted this was a significant increase on previous years. According to Clean Up, South Australia's lower percentage of PET bottles was no coincidence: it is the only Australian state where consumers are able to return bottles for a small cash refund.

Watch your wallet

If there's one area where it's hard to argue any upside to bottled water, it must be price.

"Australians are keeping an eye on petrol prices, yet many fail to realise that they're spending even more on a litre of bottled water than a litre of petrol," said Clean Up Australia boss Ian Kiernan earlier this year.

If you turn on your kitchen tap and leave it running, and running, and running until you've chewed through 1,000 litres. Yes, 1,000 litres of water. The cost? A mere $1.30.

Now head to your local convenience store. Your $1.30 won't buy you even one bottle of the standard brand.
But isn't bottled water healthier?

Environmental and nutritional toxicologist, Peter Dingle, from Murdoch University in Perth, says it's important to be clear about what you mean by bottled water, when you're asking about the health impacts of water.

"There are two types. One is tap water that has been purified through carbon filters or reverse osmosis, and is sold on the market as purified bottled water. The other type is 'real' mineral water."

According to Dingle, purified tap water has its pros and cons. "Filtering might get rid of some of the toxins found in water, like organo-chlorides and fluoride. But you will take away some of the valuable nutrients too, like calcium and magnesium."

What Dingle calls "real mineral water" may have some health benefits. "Real mineral waters like Perrier or Hepburn Spa have a distinct health advantage, as they're quite rich in minerals that we often lose out of a diet high in processed foods."

But these real mineral waters makes up a very small percentage of the bottled water sold, says Dingle.
"Most bottled water sold doesn't have a mineral content worth mentioning. So despite the fact that we're buying water for health reasons, it probably really has no real health advantage."

Perhaps bottled is safer?

In addition to the uncertainty about potential health benefits, there's no guarantee that bottled water will not make your health worse. Overseas, Coca-Cola took a battering over the recall of its Dasani bottled water, after it was found to contain higher than expected levels of a chemical called bromate, which is suspected of causing cancer.

UK's Sustain, the USA's Polaris Institute, and author of Bottlemania Elizabeth Royte are just some who believe that the beverage industry's insistence that bottled is safer and cleaner simply erodes confidence in perfectly good public water systems.

ACF staffer Elle Morrell maintains Australia's water systems are reliable. "We have some of the best tap water in the world," she says."

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