McRandle, Paul, World Watch
Seventy percent of the Earth's surface is covered with water, but more and more people now get theirs out of bottles. Global consumption of bottled water is rising about 12 percent per year, supported by annual spending of about $35 billion. Drivers include cheap and convenient packaging, water shortages, and, in some parts of the world, serious concerns about water quality. (About 1.5 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and millions die every year from diseases linked to tainted water.) Many Americans who drink bottled water believe that it is safer than tap water, although a study of a thousand bottles sold in U.S. stores revealed known and/or possible carcinogens in a fifth of them.
Closing the Loop?
Bottle recycling bills have been enacted in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and 11 U.S. States. In West Bengal, India, the Pollution Control Board last year issued a ruling that bottle producers were responsible for collecting used bottles and recycling them.
* As for the water itself: According to the World Wildlife Fund, 75 percent of bottled water is produced for local consumption. Even so, no bottled water production system can be as efficient as public drinking water systems. If the spreading popularity of bottled water represents a private solution to the failure of public infrastructure, the more effective answer would be to build or overhaul the public systems.
Bottles made from PET are recyclable (they're labeled with a 1 in the recycle triangle). Yet of the 14 billion water bottles sold in the United States in 2002 (most made from PET), 90 percent wound up in the trash.
Production and Distribution
Making the bottles from PET means releasing significant amounts of air pollutants. …