Bottled Water: Morally Indefensible?



So says Environment Minister Phil Woolas. 

Bottled-water bashing is nothing new but it’s raised its head again and it’s now a Labour MP who is attacking the dirty habit.

He said it was daft that six million litres of bottled water were drunk every day in Britain when safe tap water ws universally and cheaply available.

I think he has a very valid point.  No-one can realistically deny how unethical it is that we buy bottled water in such great quantities when many, many people don’t have the simple luxury of water from a tap.  Then there’s the environmental impact from bottled water.  As the article points out, the whole process of bottled water leaves a huge carbon footprint and the fact that we actually import it goes way beyond the realms of absurdity.  From the Times:

Bottled water has been calculated to have a carbon footprint more than several hundred times bigger than tap water for some brands. Many bottles are transported thousands of miles to get to Britain from countries including the United States and Fiji.

Unsurprisingly, the bottled water industry has come out in defense of their product by playing the social responsibility card and saying that many jobs depend on the water industry. 

The little bottle of water became a bit of a fashion statement and for a while it was just not the done thing to be seen out without a trendy bottle of Evian clasped in your hand.  It was about as essential an item as your mobile phone.  And there were no age barriers.  I still see people of all kinds of ages with their little bottle of H2O at hand.  That said, I hear that the tide is turning with last years sales falling and more and more people becoming less afraid of requesting tap water in restuarants and cafés.

And for those who just won’t be weaned off the bottle, perhaps we should give them the 4×4 treatment . . . demonise them bit.  Slap a sales tax on every bottle.  Make it morally uncool. 

The article tells us that Phil Woolas is supporting a campaign by Friends of the Earth and Thames Water aimed at persuading people to switch back to tap water.  Also, this Monday’s Panorama programme asks . . . Bottled Water: Who Needs It?


About Earthie

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16 Responses to Bottled Water: Morally Indefensible?

  1. matt says:

    Good clear image with the post EP. I’ve heard talk of this issue on the radio this week and remember hearing someone say that the carbon footprint of bottled water can be as high as 600 times that of tap water.

    We use tap water in our house but have occasionally purchased fizzy water in glass bottles. It is crazy that as water becomes a major resource issue around many parts of the world that water rich areas have cultured this water snobbery approach.

  2. the Grit says:

    Hi EP,

    That’s an even more valid point here in Memphis, where our water is so pure that, not only does it win water quality competitions every year, but our City Government also bottles it 🙂 While it comes out of the tap at something like $0.001 per gallon, a 16 ounce plastic bottle of the same liquid brings a bit over a dollar. While I can’t blame people in some parts of the country for drinking bottled water, Nashville for instance, where the tap water is barely fit to shower with let alone consume, it’s quite a joke to see someone walking down Beale Street with a bottle of Memphis Water.

    As to plastic bottles, I’ll stick to my canteen. With the built in belt clip, it’s more convenient, and, more importantly, can be filled with any number of beverages that are much more fun to consume than H20.

    the Grit

  3. earthpal says:

    Matt, I occasionally buy bottled water, if I’m out for instance and need a drink.

    My kids take a bottle of water to school every day but it’s filled each day from our tap. No water filter. Just water direct from the tap. How neanderthal is that compared to today’s sanitised standards? Lol.

    Hi Grit, I understand that in some areas, tap water is not suitable. In some countries, the tap water is definitely not recommended for tourists/visitors with delicate tummies and I have to admit, I’d only drink bottled water myself in certain places.

    I like the sound of your canteen. How is it at holding red wine? 😉

  4. keithsc says:

    I agree it’s madness but why is so much of it bought? Is it just the power of advertising and fashion or do people really believe it is better for them despite the evidence? Or is it convenience – people don’t want to carry it around and would prefer to buy it when they want it. Like you Earthpal I’ve occasionally bought it when I’ve been out and needed a drink but I can’t remember my parents ever buying it.

  5. earthpal says:

    I agree it’s madness but why is so much of it bought? Is it just the power of advertising and fashion or do people really believe it is better for them despite the evidence?

    Hi Keith. I think it’s a bit of both. I reckon that advertising and fashion plays a direct part in why so much is bought. The advertising not only glamourises bottled water, but with some clever wording, it tells us that bottled water is better for us.

  6. Allan B says:

    I freely admit to drinking only bottled water. I don’t like the taste of tap water and besides the authorities have seen fit to add all sorts of chemicals to it “for our own good”. We also get the occasional discolouration of our water, though we are assured that it is quite safe to drink – I would rather not take that chance.

    I don’t follow fashion and certainly have never been persuaded to buy any bottled water by any advertisement. Indeed, I buy my bottled water from our local Aldi at around 20p per 2 litre bottle – and then dispose of the plastic bottle in our plastic recycling bin.

    Perhaps I am naive in believing that the quality of my bottled water is likely to be more consistent than tap water, but in my opinion, that’s my informed choice.

    And as for the green/carbon footprint angle, if you are prepared to open your mind, check out this link:

    Now talk to me about “Morally indefensible”!!

  7. matt says:

    Oh dear Allan, that little test you linked to is very, very naughty. When asking the question, ….. Carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants damages forests? T/F? …. this is detracting from what does damage forests when so much coal is burnt – sulphur dioxide. So the Prof who put this cute little questionaire up is misleading the public. Sorry to break that news to you!

  8. Allan B says:

    Oh dear Matt!!

    Many years ago in a previous part of my chequered life I used to work in a coal fired power station and during my time there, there was a frightful hoo-hah about all of the emissions. As can be expected most of the complaints were about the “smoke” from the “big chimneys”. Of course this caused much hilarity amongst those of us who worked at the power station who naturally knew that the “smoke” was in fact pure steam, though it was difficult to convince the lunatic fringe of this fact. I personally took quite a number of these people on tours of the power station to explain and demonstrate exactly how everything actually worked, and what came out of where.

    However, there were the few informed complainants who had a genuine point about the emissions from “tall skinny chimneys” aka the smokestacks. We at the PowerStation took cognisance of what was obviously a valid issue and after much testing and measuring and at great expense we fitted multi-stage scrubbers which took progressively more and more of the microscopic solids and then most of the harmful chemicals out of the flue gasses as they passed through the system on their way to the stacks.

    From then on all of our emissions were very carefully monitored to make sure that the content stayed within acceptable tolerances, and woe betide any operator who allowed his boiler to emit excessive noxious gasses, and the scrubbers were scrupulously maintained.

    That was in an old power station a long time ago – in fact it was decommissioned and demolished in the mid ’90s. The newer power stations have far more efficient scrubbers and very little harmful chemicals manage to escape into the atmosphere.

    Isn’t personal experience a wonderful moral high ground upon which to bleat from?

    Oh, and by the way, I can’t say that I have ever noticed vast plains denuded of trees for miles around any coal fired power stations – quite the opposite in fact.

  9. matt says:

    The Black Forest is a well known case of this Allan.

    (from he who knows it is steam that rises from the cooling towers 🙂 )

  10. Allan B says:

    The Black Forest? The one in Germany? The same one that has been decimated by unfettered logging and even lost over 100 acres in 1999 due to damage caused by extratropical cyclone Lothar?

    Or is there another Black Forest that I don’t know about? (Perhaps it is obscured from view by a cooling tower?;-))

    Now, that unfettered logging is an act worthy of the label “morally indefensible”. Where are the environmentalists and MPs protesting against that?

  11. earthpal says:

    Hi Allan.

    Those bottles of Aldi water at 20 per two-litres – that’s very cheap. How sure are you that it’s not just tap water that’s been filtered and purified to get rid of that tap-water taste?

    As for the climate change denial test, I see it’s made by Monte Heib who is not a climate scientist. His interests are with the mining industry. I’ve just done a quick google search on his name and I certainly won’t be relying on his opinions.

    Matt, here’s another misleading quote from the ‘test’ . . .

    The world’s natural wetlands produce more greenhouse gas contributions annually than all human sources combined.

    I gave up after I read that bit. It is grossly misleading. The wetlands also store vast … VAST amounts of carbon and provide a vital ecosystem. It’s all a matter of balance. But as we continue to destroy these areas, we are also destroying the naturally efficient carbon sink that we desperately need. That’s not to mention the human-induced global warming which is further complicating the wetlands eco-systems.

    Allan, regarding your point about unfettered logging – there are plenty of environmentalists protesting about this. There are articles in this blog pertaining to deforestation and the destructive logging industry.

  12. Allan B says:

    Hmmm… none so vociferously adamant than the morally outraged!!

    Earthpal, you may be quite correct about the Aldi water, but your question proves my point. I LIKE the taste of Aldi water, and if it is just filtered and purified tap-water, well, that’s exactly what I wanted in the first place: filtered and purified water that tastes nice. I don’t really care where it comes from as long as it fits those criteria. And then the plastic bottle gets recycled and comes back to me again filled with fresh, nice tasting, filtered and purified water – from somewhere – all for the cost of 20p!! Fantastic!!

    As for the test that I linked to, the very first page quite clearly states that Monte Heib is a professional mining and geology engineer. They are not trying to hoodwink anyone, though I daresay that the field of geology doubtless includes quite an overlap with meteorology – amongst other fields. He also includes references in most of his answers to more authoritative sources, so it’s not just his opinion.

    Just to put the record straight, I am all for preserving and protecting the environment – in fact I am an active member of our local fauna and flora preservation society. However, when big business and politicians get involved in these potentially emotive and moral issues, that’s when issues and non-issues alike get spun completely out of proportion, entirely for the benefit of said big business and politicians.

    Hence, that’s also when you get these ridiculous broad statements like “drinking bottled water is morally indefensible”. Talk about spinning non-issues completely out of proportion!!

    You may also notice in the excerpt in blue, halfway through the article, which talks about the carbon footprint of bottled water compared to tap water, also includes the words “for some brands”. I have no doubt that some of the expensive fashionable brands probably do have a high carbon footprint (another over-spun buzz-phrase), but that is no just cause to condemn ALL bottled water.

    People, let’s all use a bit of common sense for a change, instead of allowing these self serving blow-hards to pluck at our heartstrings.

  13. keithsc says:

    At work we used to have bottled water and it has been replaced by a water purifier so the tap water is purified and cooled. It saves transporting all the weighty bottles and purifies the water if that’s what you want. Perhaps that is a reasonable compromise? It certainly saves a lot of energy and is presumably cheaper. This does reflect a wider question in our society. Is the society we are in sustainable and could all the world’s population live at our level? We can’t know the answer for sure but for me the evidence suggests that people are having a massive impact on the planet and changing its environment in all kinds of ways.

  14. the Grit says:

    Hi earthpal,

    While I haven’t experimented with red wine, yet, my canteen holds Scotch whiskey quite well and, if one omits the olives, it’s also good for transporting martinis. I suspect, however, that beer is, due to the warming nature of the human body, not something it’s ideally suited to transport 🙂

    Oh, and when necessary, it also serves very well at holding sweet tea.

    the Grit

  15. Allan B says:

    Water purifiers – tried those – still tasted grim.

    But let us get back to the issue at hand: Last time I checked, more than 75% of greenhouse gas is made up of CO2.

    Fizzy drinks – aka carbonated drinks – are pressurised by… you guessed it… CO2. Think about how many hundreds of millions of litres of fizzy drinks are consumed EVERY DAY around the world. Each time someone opens a can of their favourite fizzy drink, they release a small amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. Multiply that by hundreds of millions a day and you get a phenomenal amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere EVERY DAY.

    Let us try not to even contemplate the carbon footprint which goes into creating said fizzy drinks in the first place – glass bottles, cans, plastic bottles, inks… and that’s just the packaging. Never mind about the drinks manufacturing process – which does of course consist of a large percentage of… wait for it… water!

    So, following on from the conviction that it is morally indefensible to drink plain bottled water, drinking fizzy drinks should be a capital offense!

    I hope that none of you out there drink fizzy drinks – I certainly don’t.

    Come on everybody!! Let’s all march on Parliament and demand that due to the current environmental emergency that all manufacturers of fizzy drinks be closed permanently forthwith! Tallyho!!!

  16. earthpal says:

    Carbonated drinks emit very little co2’s directly when opened but as you implied, every little helps (or not in this case). And they do have a heavy carbon footprint by way of packaging, shipping etc. so maybe the manufacturers should be looking at greener ways to produce their goods. And maybe the consmer should think about buying their fizzy drinks in bigger containers rather than in single bottles/cans.
    I don’t drink fizzy pop – ever. And nor do my children. It’s full of rubbish!

    Your Aldi water . . . you say you don’t care where it comes from but if it is being flown half way across the planet to reach you in spite of the fact that there are plenty of water sources much closer, then surely there’s a moral green argument to be made here.

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