Drinking water: Think outside the bottle

Worldwatch, a highly reputed environment research organisation, puts forward the following facts — bottled water is the world’s fastest-growing commercial beverage, global consumption has more than doubled between 1997 and 2005 while the United States remains the largest consumer of bottled water, India has in recent times drastically increased its consumption.

“Bottled water is a $10 billion industry in the United States alone. And it’s all part of a grander strategy to privatise the world’s water systems, including your tap,” cautions Worldwatch.

Alarmist? Not really. Just look around you and you will find bottled water consumption everywhere. Public water taps have all but disappeared from public places and water is no longer freely available in urban India. Go to any restaurant and you are asked whether you want regular or mineral water. In luxury buses, trains, conferences and at weddings you are given bottled water. Tap water just won’t do, or so it seems.

A basic right
Clean water is a basic right of all citizens. But, it is unfortunate that a majority has no access to this. The municipal systems are bursting at the seams as demand far exceeds supply. People  are ready to pay the price for bottled water, specially when outside the house. A bottle of water costs Rs 12 per litre (BWSSB charges roughly an equivalent amount to supply 1,000 litres and to carry back waste water!), while the companies that sell them literally get the water free. So, this is indeed a huge profit-making industry.

Apart from the capitalistic consideration, one needs to look at the staggering environmental price of the bottled water. Most of the time, water in these bottles come from aquifers under ground and there is no check on how much water can be drawn from these natural resources.

India already has the dubious distinction of being the largest exploiter of groundwater. While much of this exploitation is for irrigation and use by non-commercial interests, bottled water is increasingly adding to the exploitation.
The bottle manufacturing process and transportation add substantially to carbon emissions. The non-biodegradable PET bottles pose a huge waste problem, often ending up in landfills and contributing further to groundwater contamination.
Many people who buy bottled water are aware of these facts. Still, they buy water as municipal water supply is either irregular or is contaminated. But the fact remains that the so called ‘pure’ water in bottles may not be pure at all as testing has demonstrated.

Rainwater harvesting
Many parts of Bangalore still get regular and clean water, which can be used for drinking. Domestic water treatment and boiling water are also measures that can be easily adopted by many. Rainwater harvesting, which the government has made mandatory for all new buildings needs to be enforced strictly. Activists say that rainwater is safe to drink when it has been filtered and stored with certain precautions. If not for drinking, by using rainwater for other purposes, the pressure on the public supply can be reduced.

There are those who buy bottled water for the sake of ‘convenience’ and it is this group that needs to really think about the environmental impact of its action. Many cities across the developed world, where tap water quality is excellent, still have to fight against market forces that make bottled water attractive and the choice of those who can afford it. Bundanoon in rural Australia became the first town to officially ban the sale of bottled water — much to the delight of environmental groups across the world.

Carrying your own water bottle is not that difficult. What is difficult is changing the mindset that bottled water is better. That is why, environmental groups urge people to “think outside the bottle”.

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