Brahma Chellaney of Center for Policy Research has an important piece on the obvious emerging environmental risk – plastic water bottles.
Over the last 15 years, the bottled-water industry has experienced explosive growth, which shows no sign of slowing. In fact, bottled water – including everything from “purified spring water” to flavored water and water enriched with vitamins, minerals, or electrolytes – is the largest growth area in the beverage industry, even in cities where tap water is safe and highly regulated. This has been a disaster for the environment and the world’s poor.
The environmental problems begin early on, with the way the water is sourced. The bulk of bottled water sold worldwide is drawn from the subterranean water reserves of aquifers and springs, many of which feed rivers and lakes. Tapping such reserves can aggravate drought conditions.
But bottling the runoff from glaciers in the Alps, the Andes, the Arctic, the Cascades, the Himalayas, Patagonia, the Rockies, and elsewhere is not much better, as it diverts that water from ecosystem services like recharging wetlands and sustaining biodiversity. This has not stopped big bottlers and other investors from aggressively seeking to buy glacier-water rights. China’s booming mineral-water industry, for example, taps into Himalayan glaciers, damaging Tibet’s ecosystems in the process.
Much of today’s bottled water, however, is not glacier or natural spring water but processed water, which is municipal water or, more often, directly extracted groundwater that has been subjected to reverse osmosis or other purification treatments. Not surprisingly, bottlers have been embroiled in disputes with local authorities and citizens’ groups in many places over their role in water depletion, and even pollution. In drought-seared California, some bottlers have faced protests and probes; one company was even banned from tapping spring water.
Worse, processing, bottling, and shipping the water is highly resource-intensive. It takes 1.6 liters of water, on average, to package one liter of bottled water, making the industry a major water consumer and wastewater generator. And processing and transport add a significant carbon footprint.
The problems do not stop when the water reaches the consumer. The industry depends mainly on single-serve bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the raw materials for which are derived from crude oil and natural gas. In the 1990s, it was PET that turned water into a portable, lightweight convenience product.
But PET does not decompose; and, while it can be recycled, it usually is not. As a result, bottled water is now the single biggest source of plastic waste, with tens of billions of bottles ending up as garbage every year. In the United States, where the volume of bottled water sold last year increased by 7% from 2013, 80% of all plastic water bottles become litter, choking landfills.
One just does not understand why bottled water has become such a fashionable thing. What emerged as a necessity (in say railway stations etc) has become a luxury. Most restaurants push the bottled water by saying “do you want tap water or bottled water?” Hearing tap water most choose to opt for bottled water which is sold at much higher rates than MRP. And then some fancier ones may give you choices in bottled water like Evian and so on.
Then you have shopping malls kind of places where simple water stations are not kept/maintained but bottled water machines are present. The whole idea is to push the bottle and let environmental damages be damned.
The government in India which has banned plastic bags should do something on plastic bottles as well. Now, one knows that there are too many bans in this country and we don’t want one more. But then there seems to be no other way. The market way could be to increase price of bottled water sharply. But there are certain places like railways etc where bottled water cannot be avoided. Having multiple prices for a product like water s not going to be easy to manage.
Places like Malls/ Cinemas etc where bottled water can be avoided should be encouraged to do so. They should be asked to keep and maintain water dispensers. Like people have started carrying their own bags as shops started charging for bags, we need people to start carrying their water bottles wherever they can. The overall circulation of plastic bottles has to come down.
These are the sorts of issues which no one really cares about as they do not impact you immediately. They impact with a long grind but finally when the moment comes there are no solutions really..