.The cost of bottled water
Australian consumers pay almost 2000 times more than the
cost of tap water to drink from a bottle.
While a litre of tap water in Sydney costs
only a fraction of a cent, you can
pay upwards of $3.88 a litre for bottled
water, with a large proportion of this
cost coming from producing the plastic
bottle, lid and label.
And the costs over time can add up
If you hydrate yourself with
two litres a day straight from the tap,
you’ll pay about $1.50 a year. Drink
the same amount from single-serve
bottles, however, and you could be
looking at $2800 or more a year.
Australians have access
to safe drinking water,
and for most of us it’s
readily available via the tap. Water
trends from the Australian Bureau of
Statistics’ 2006 environment survey
show 93% of Australian households
were connected to mains/town water
in March 2004. Almost all households
(98%) in capital cities were connected,
compared with 86% of households
outside the capitals.
Tap vs bottle
Industry group the
Australasian Bottled Water Institute (ABWI) estimates
the industry is worth about $500 million
a year. This equates to the sale of roughly
600 megalitres of water, 60% of which is
sold in single-serve bottles.
On a national level, about one in five
households bought bottled water in
2004, compared with 16% in 2001. In
fact, almost one in 10 households says
it’s their main source of drinking water.
In the 10 years to 2004, the proportion
of households buying bottled water
increased from three per cent to 21%.
Market researchers Canadean say world
consumption of bottled water has doubled
in the past decade, and predict
bottled water will overtake
carbonated drinks as the leading
drink category by 2015.
Mains tap water in Australian cities
is supplied by utilities, while in rural
and regional areas it’s the responsibility
of local council. Individual state health
departments are responsible for
regulating water quality monitoring.
The water from your tap starts its
journey from catchment zones, dams,
rivers and even the ocean before flowing
through filtration plants designed to remove contaminants and bring water in
line with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. Set by the National Health and Medical Research Council, these guidelines define safe, good-quality water and how it is achieved and assured.
The poor taste of their mains water can lead some people to choose bottled water but, aside from the cost, there are also health and environmental arguments for tap water.
If the quality of tap water is a problem
where you live - see State-by-state water quality - there are a number of
water filters on the market that can
help you save money in the long term.
These are available with different filter
cartridges that help remove impurities,
which may help with taste.
The fluoride factor
Despite the ABWI listing hydration
for “health-conscious living” as a key
reason for people drinking bottled
water, Australian tap water is equally as
effective for hydration as bottled water.
The Australian Dental Association
recommends tap water as the primary
choice of drink for everyone. The chair
of its Oral Health Committee, Peter
Alldritt, says “it’s the most hydrating
beverage there is, free of sugar and acid,
and [where] it contains fluoride, [it]
reduces the risk of tooth decay”.
“People who prefer bottled water
are turning their backs on the benefits
of water fluoridation,” he says. “They
risk putting their dental health back
to the 1960s, when tooth decay was
widespread because there was no
fluoride in the water.”
The World Health Organization also
holds the view that dental cavities can be
prevented by maintaining a constant low
level of fluoride in the oral cavity. Where
fluoride is added to tap water in Australia,
regulations mandate 0.6 – 1.1mg per litre.
Although the Australia Food Standards Code permits bottlers to add the same
amount to their bottled water, the ABWI
says some people will choose bottled
water over tap as a means of avoiding
chemicals such as fluoride.
Although the ABWI boasts that all
plastic bottles are made from recyclable
material, the truth is less than half of
these PET plastic bottles are actually
recycled, with the remaining 60%
going straight to landfill.
In fact, US-based policy research
organisation the Pacific Institute
estimates twice as much water is used
in producing the plastic bottle as there
is in the bottle itself. This means every
litre consumed actually represents
three litres of water.
Clean Up Australia adds that plastic
bottles are among the 10 most common
rubbish items picked up on Clean Up
Australia Day, and actively encourages
people to avoid bottled water and buy
a reusable bottle.
Ban the bottle?
Refill schemes are starting to take off around the country, with local councils paying closer attention to the provision of clean and regularly maintained public water fountains and taps. Some towns and organisations have taken it upon themselves to go a step further, banning bottled water completely. Bans are now also in place in the NSW town of Bundanoon and at Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College in Sydney, the University of Canberra and the Southbank campus of the Victorian College of the Arts. Yarra Valley Water is enjoying great success with its Choose Tap app, as is Sydney Water with its café water program Tap, launched to help reverse the trend of paying too much for drinking water. Do Something!’s Go Tap campaign backs Manly Council’s water fountain project in Sydney and urges people to reduce single-bottle consumption on environmental grounds.