Bottled Water = Manufactured Demand ?

Globally bottled water sales have boomed in recent years, and are now estimated to be at around 200 billion bottles annually (yes, 200 billion!) in a market worth nearly $66billion a year.

It seems rich world consumers are happy to pay a 1000 times or more for a plastic bottle of water, what it would cost them from their own tap – even thought there is usually little to no discernible difference between them.

This seems strange.

Especially considering the significant environmental impact of the bottled water industry – the manufacture of the plastic bottles, the transport of filled bottles by road, the waste resulting from discarded empty bottles, often destined for landfill or incineration, or worse to become oceanic plastic pollution.

Large multi-nationals invest huge sums in advertising and marketing their bottled waters, trying to differentiate themselves from each other, and promote the ‘health benefits’ of drinking bottled water, when compared against bottled sodas.

Can consumer demand really be manufactured in this way ? It seems so in part, but it must surely also say something about the image and convenience driven nature of our societies – that many of us would rather spend money unecesserily on an environmentally damaging product than simply carry an empty water bottle with us and refilling it !

More positively there seems to be an increasing realisation of the detrimental effects of bottled water, with increasing numbers of organisations now campaigning against it, and two cities recently banning the sale of water in plastic containers: Concord in the US, and Bundy in Australia.

As the philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer points out:

“If you can afford to buy bottled water, where there is a tap, you are choosing to spend money on an unnecessary luxury, while others die elsewhere in the world for want of access to clean water”

Carry an empty drinking water bottle with you and fill it for free at taps, and encourage your friends to do the same. You might also consider giving the money you save to a water charity.


Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis via Flickr

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