Bottled Water Is All about Private Profit and Public Cost

Article excerpt

THE SCANDAL of Parliament using bottled water goes well beyond the R500 000 wasted by this mindless expenditure ("Parliament spends R500 000 on bottled water," Cape Times June 22).

Framed by climate change, environmental degradation, resource depletion and, in South Africa, already existing water shortages, bottled water begs many serious questions.

Bottled water is a $63 billion (R429bn) global industry. Two hundred and sixty million litres were bottled in South Africa in 2006, with a turnover of R2bn and sales showing a consistently large annual increase since 2001.

An enormous mark-up lies behind the enormous profitability of the industry. The premium over tap water (bottled water is often little more than tap water in a bottle) varies between 1 000 to 10 000 percent around the world. A sample of the bottled water at a middle-income Cape Town supermarket shows a premium of between 1 619 to2 552 times when compared to a litre of municipal tap water. Against this enormously lucrative private profit is a no less expensive public cost. Among the many aspects of this cost are:

l It takes up from three to eight times as much water to make the bottle as it does to fill it - with an even higher price in water-scarce South Africa where precious ground water is being tapped;

l Some 1.5 million tons of plastic is used worldwide to make the bottles;

l It takes 17 billion barrels of oil to produce the plastic bottles - the same amount of petrol sufficient to cover2 533 855 313 km at eight litres to 100 km;

l A litre of bottled water generates 600 times more carbon dioxide - the green house gas (GHG) - than a litre of tap water;

l Bottling water in the US created 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2006;

l Millions of litres of fast disappearing oil are used transporting bottled water around the world and within South Africa, often from place to place where (virtually) identical water exists. …