Bottled Water Industry Waging Insidious War On Tap Water

How did it happen that the bottled water industry can take what is clean, readily available and free in the west, package it in non-biodegradable plastic, and sell it back to consumers at highly inflated prices?

How could so many customers fall for this trick?

Not only that, but profits continue to rise. In 2010, more than 2 billion liters were consumed in the UK, which equates to 33 liters per person, a figure projected to rise to 40 liters by 2020.

In the US, more than 40 billion liters were sold last year, in an estimated 28 billion plastic bottles that it took 17m barrels of oil to manufacture (enough to fuel about 100,000 cars for the entire year). The industry in the US is worth $22 billion a year and sales are increasing at a rate of 5.4 per cent annually.

On an even more depressing side note, nearly 8 out of every 10 of those bottles ends up in a landfill, translating to about a 23 percent recycling rate.

Why Do Consumers Continue To Buy Bottled Water?

One reason is the aggressive marketing campaign that is being waged by the bottled water industry. In the UK last month, the Natural Hydration Council (NHC), an industry body formed by the UK’s three biggest bottlers: Nestlé Waters (makers of Buxton, Perrier and San Pellegrino), Danone Waters (Evian and Volvic) and Highland Spring, handed its lucrative public relations account to Pegasus PR, whose clients include Pfizer and Bayer.

From The Ecologist:

Pegasus’s role is to ensure the NHC’s ‘authoritative voice in the hydration debate is heard more clearly’ and consolidate the successes of its predecessor, Munro & Foster, tasked in 2009 with preventing bottled water from being compared to tap water.

The NHC was formed in 2008 to prevent declining sales: 2,240m litres of bottled water were drunk in 2006, 2,125m in 2007 and 2,005m in 2008. Price, negative blind tastings (consumers prefer tap or perceive no difference) and campaigns such as those run by London’s Evening Standard, to encourage people to ask for tap water in restaurants, all played their part.

Apparently the campaign worked: by 2009, domestic consumption had bounced back to 2,040m liters, then to 2,050m liters in 2010; 2011 figures are expected to be around 2,100m liters.

Your Right To Choose Is At Stake!

In the US, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) has cleverly turned bottled water into a freedom of choice issue. It likes to point out, as it did in 2008 when Toronto City Council chose to prevent plastic bottles from being sold on municipal premises, that ‘less healthy beverages [are] packaged in a denser grade of plastic at twice the volume of bottled water’.

The IBWA is also attempting to make the issue a constitutional one through its consumer arm, Bottled Water Matters, a ‘pro-bottle’ internet campaign aimed at encouraging Americans to stand up for their right to bottled water.

According to its video: ‘There are people who want to take your choice away, people who want bottled water off store shelves because they think it’s unnecessary, but you know that’s not true.’ ‘Bottled water is one of the healthiest drinks on the shelf’ and “Your freedom of choice is at stake.”

Thankfully, Not Everyone Believes These Lies

However, more than 90 US universities – including Harvard, Brown and Vermont – have banned or are intending to ban bottled water on campus. New students are being given stainless-steel bottles and asked to refill from filtered water taps. Meanwhile more than 100 towns and cities have voted to ban bottled water to reduce waste.

Such campaigns are taken seriously because the industry’s biggest markets are the US and Europe, says Res Gehriger, the Swiss journalist and filmmaker behind Bottled Life: The Truth about Nestlé’s Business with Water, which explores Nestlé’s commercialisation of community-owned water sources in the developing world.

In addition, earlier this year the National Park Service voted to ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles at Grand Canyon National Park, something which was already happening in Zion National Park, in Utah, which created a similar ban in 2008 and eliminated 60,000 plastic bottles from the park in 2009.

According to the Natural Defenses Council, 40 percent of bottled water is nothing more than tap water anyway. Tap water is more highly regulated than bottled water, and it’s virtually free. Go with refillable bottles for you and your kids!

Related Stories

Tap Water Is Cleaner Than Bottled Water (And Other Shocking Facts!)

Grand Canyon Bans Sale Of Plastic Water Bottles

Bottled Water Greenwashing Crackdown In California

Photo Credit: noomii

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Catherine A.
Catherine A.1 months ago

These are actually wonderful some ideas in the blog. You have touched good quality points here. In whatever way continue writing.Water industry growth

Naomi A.
Naomi A.2 years ago

There is a couple of things to remember when reusing water bottles or even the cool refillable drinking bottles that are around.
Always wash the bottle every day around the rim where you drink, the lip or curve of the bottle interior and the cap.
And DONT leave them in the sun. The bottles break down like anything else in the sun and can put nasty chemicals into your water.
A couple of years ago a study in Perth WA, Australia looked at putting tap water into bottles and selling it. They sold out fast. I do not know the question behind the study or even what the outcome was but I remember thinking how stupid people where then. I think this just proves we live in a a throw-away society and people really are getting dumber. =-(

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado3 years ago

Thanks. /will try to bring water from home.

Robert K.
Robert K.3 years ago

Back in the 80s Consumer Reports analyzed every major and some smaller brands worldwide and came to the conclusion that the best water there is is New York City tap water. Every time I'm in NY and see the pretentious types drinking their bottled water I just smirk and remember that.

Then there's Perrier which a comedian friend of mine used to refer to as derriere water which comes from springs near the French radioactive dump sites. Yum yum, drink it up!

Phillipa W.
Phillipa W.3 years ago

If only avoiding fluoride in water was as simple as buying bottled water (although at a HUGE cost to the environment. 90% is still absorbed through skin which makes it pointless drinking only bottled water and using it in cooking.

KS Goh
KS Goh3 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Jose M. C.
JOSE M. C.3 years ago

We drink nothing but Arrowhead water (one of Nestle's many "mountain spring" brands). Seriously, the label's signature spring feeds our entire water district, so the same stuff in their bottles comes right out of our tap. And since we don't like the taste from either source (worst-tasting local bottled water IMO), we have a 4-stage filter under our sink that leaves it tasting better than anything bought in a plastic container.

Oh, and for the 25 cents you might pay for the cheapest bottle available, I can get 5 gallons.

Estelita atti3 years ago


Debbie L.
Debbie Lim3 years ago

Banning bottled water is a great idea. I'm glad they apply it in many universities and cities already :) Hope it continues.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams3 years ago

Willimantic tap water has been really good tasting the past few years now. I am shameless in re-using a plastic throw-away bottle (left behind by someone else) to carry tap water for convenience.