Bottled Water - What Is The True Cost

When I first left New Zealand, as a naive 18 year old, traveling from our isolated islands brought many interesting discoveries. From stretched buses in Australia to double-deckers in the UK, to new kinds of exotic fruit and cultural attitudes - it was a big, and fun, learning curve. One of the things that surprised me, though, and this might be hard for the average world citizen to understand, is the concept of buying water. Coming from the heart of an island covered in stream and river-laden mountains and valleys, the thought of surrendering my hard-earned cash for a bottle of water seemed obscene (like having to buy the air we breathe). In some of the places I lived and visited, however, buying bottled water was necessary for survival, and in others it was a regular purchase due to the perception it was healthy or due to suspicions about the local supply. I remember the water industry being big business in Australia. In Sydney, at the time, a poured glass of tap water always had a slight yellow tint to it. This bothered me, and once I placed a full glass of water on a bench, resolving not to move it for a week or so. After about five days the water was perfectly clear - well, except for a 5mm layer of thick brown sludge at the bottom.... With parts of Sydney being among possible exceptions, many studies around the world have shown tap water to be just as good (and in some cases better) than expensive bottled water (often bottled water is tap water). But what is the true cost of all of this bottled water? Pablo, over on the Triple Pundit web site has made some back-of-the-envelope calculations, and come up with some alarming, albeit controversial results.

This week's AskPablo comes from Maryline: "I am interested to know the 'true-cost' of a bottle of Fiji water that currently sells for $1.50 in the United States. David Lazarus wrote a report on the water business in the SF Chronicle and studied the success of Fiji (January 21 edition), where 'distance and exoticism are marketed as advantages.' Fiji is now # 2 in premium bottled water, behind Evian where we have the same transportation issue. An environmental absurdity!" ... Based on my calculations a bottle that holds 1 liter requires 5 liters of water in its manufacturing process . - triplepundit

Pablo continues and adds other associated costs like fossil fuel, greenhouse gas emissions and even more water, creating quite a startling picture (click here to see Pablo's full calculations). I'd be interested to know your thoughts on this topic, but it leaves me thinking that if one absolutely must buy bottled water, then avoid the 'exotic' brands. Just because it has come from the other side of the world doesn't necessarily make it any better, and the environmental costs are huge. Even without Pablo's calculations, the transfer of a very heavy commodity like water from one side of the world to the other is obviously an illogical and inefficient exercise.

Consider installing a filter system

Unfortunately, the last time I visited New Zealand I discovered the wonders of modern marketing had done their thing in my absence - as almost every supermarket and corner store has bottled water from France, Wales, etc. If New Zealanders, with their gloriously pure aquifers, can be convinced to buy water from the other side of the planet, it does leave one a little dismayed with industry motivations, and the gullibility of consumers.... Depending on where you live, your tap water is likely to be just as good as bottled water - but if not, consider having a filter system installed in your home. The one-off cost will soon be repaid in savings, and immediately compensated with peace of mind.

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  • Posted on Feb. 9, 2007. Listed in:

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