Bottled Water. To Buy or Not to Buy?

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Too few people across the developing world have access to safe water. Too often they end up walking miles to unsafe water sources or, if they live in urban areas, purchasing water from expensive private sources. Safe water and sanitation are one of the main mechanisms to cut infant mortality from water borne diseases. Big donor and government investments are now underway (see the Asian Development Bank for instance).

Actress Thandie Newton explains in today’s FT why she is an ambassador of Volvic and World Vision’s campaign, in which Volvic supplies 10 litres of water in Africa for every litre of water bought in the UK (go here and to World Vision).

Frankly, I try to avoid bottled water whenever I can – costly and environmentally unfriendly. But if I have to buy – and have you tried to get water in an airport recently? what happened to the water fountains? – then Thandie’s rationale might persuade me to choose Volvic. She says:

“I wanted to see if my cynical attitude could be changed and World Vision did change it. Bottled water isn’t going to go away and so I’d rather there was a brand that donates large sums of money to genuinely valuable causes, and which creates philanthropic competition between brands. I’m not a blinkered purist. I know that by infiltrating these large corporations, I’m in a much better position to suggest changes. Right now, for example, I’m encouraging Volvic to switch to biodegradable containers”.

Fair point. In the meantime, can I have a glass of (tap) water please?

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5 Responses to “Bottled Water. To Buy or Not to Buy?”

  1. Brian Thorn Says:

    A great supporter of World Vision is AIDtoCHILDREN.com.

    AIDtoCHILDREN.com is a dual-purpose site for building an English
    vocabulary and raising money for under privileged children in the most
    impoverished places around the world.

    Check it out at http://www.aidtochildren.com

  2. Timothy Hickey Says:

    We won’t argue with anyone’s efforts to move things in the right direction. However, there are many serious negative impacts of buying bottled water.
    * One is that 17 million barrels of crude oil are used annually to
    produce the plastic used to bottle water.
    * Another is that bottled water is hauled long distances for distribution, burning massive quantities of fuel.
    * Mountainous rubbish heaps have been created all over from thrown-away bottles. (In 2003 the industry reported that only 12% of ‘custom’ plastic bottles, as are used for water, were recycled.

    Yes, there seems to be no option in an airport. Other than that and a few rare circumstances, a far better solution in every way is to have your own bottles and refill them at home with filtered water.

    For more information and products to save and filter water, please visit http://www.friendsofwater.com – a family-run business dedicated to reducing water usage and cleaning our water supply. This page summarizes the key issues about bottled water: http://www.friendsofwater.com/Bottled_Water.html.

  3. Tony Addison Says:

    thanks to Brian and Tim for their contributions. I remain very skeptical of bottled water. Make mine tap.

  4. Barbz Says:

    Why pick on bottled water? people in the ‘developing’ world almost have nothing at all, so should we all be feeling guilty about everything that we have? Mr Hickey refers to stats from 2003 regarding recycling of water bottles, but this is actually 2008, and recycling has now become the norm for many more people. Last Xmas I bought my father a fleece gilet from M&S, made from recycled plastic bottles. What is 17m barrels of crude oil in the context of world consumption? Whatever it is, maybe somebody can design a bottle material that doesn’t involve using oil. As for the fuel used to transport the bottles, what is the fuel consumption in the context of all the world’s transport fuel consumption? I doubt whether transporting bottled mineral water uses-up a big percentage. Some people seem to verge on hysteria over bottled water, when there are bigger problems in the world, such as deforestation.

  5. Tony Addison Says:

    Thanks Barbz. You are certainly right about deforestation – an emergency. Deforestation is one reason why Indonesia is one of the biggest emitters of carbon into the atmosphere. Lots of ideas to reduce it, but too few seem to be getting traction. I notice the Prince of Wales has now weighed in on Indonesia and deforestation. A percentage of the sales from Bottled water at Manchester University now go to water projects in the developing world – my favourite being a well pump in South African villages that doubles as a children’s roundabout.

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