Breaking the bottled water habit

water bottles

Credit: iStockphoto

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Gay Hawkins from the University of NSW's School of English, Media and Performing Arts says while the beverage companies are certainly engaging in aggressive marketing techniques, it takes two to tango.

"What the bottle companies are exploiting is a general concern about risk: is tap water safe, is bottled water healthier? Over the last 30 years the risk culture has really escalated: people now feel vulnerable about almost anything," she says.

Hawkins, who recently began a three-year international study looking at the link between bottles and taps, wonders what role bottled water will play in our future:

"Look around, everyone's carrying a bottle; it's an extraordinary transformation in the last 10 years. It says a lot about plastics, water futures, the legal rights surrounding access to water, and issues of health. That bottle stands for so many important questions around the politics of life."


But in the politics of bottled water, a backlash is starting to emerge.

Overseas utilities companies were amongst the first to fight back. In Paris, the city's water was re-branded as Eau de Paris, with restaurants given Pierre Cardin-designed carafes to entice Parisians back to tap. The campaign was so successful that London is now planning its own program, called London on Tap.

In the USA, many local governments are banning bottled water at official functions and in their offices: the movement, which began in San Francisco last year, has gained endorsement from mayors in New York, Seattle and cities across North America.

In Australia, the Department of Environment and Climate Change has stopped supplying bottled water in their 120 offices, the Victorian government is encouraging tap, and Manly Council has led others in NSW by banning the bottle in offices and at functions.

Some celebrities are even changing their tune: while Madonna once sent sales of Evian soaring by adopting it as her brand of preference today, Cindy Crawford more demurely endorses a water filtration company.

The response from beverage companies has been an increased focus on 'greening up' their public presence.

We're already seeing Landcare partner with Mount Franklin for tree planting; PepsiCo donate to Matt Damon's African clean water campaign in exchange for his endorsement of Starbucks' Ethos Water; and Fiji Water claims that drinking its product will help the environment because they offset more carbon than it takes to create the water. Expect it to escalate.

As they cry "greenwash alert", activists at sites such as www.bottledwateralliance.com, www.turntotap.com and www.insidethebottle.org are hoping that consumers see through the hype, and soon.

That way, the next time you're presented with a smorgasbord of bottled waters, you'll be confident enough to respond in the most rational, economical and environmentally sound manner:

"No, thanks, I'll take tap."

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