Bottled water, a natural resource taxing the world's ecosystem
Feb 10 10:10 AM US/Eastern
Bottled water consumption, which has more than doubled globally in the last six years, is a natural resource that is heavily taxing the world's ecosystem, according to a new US study.
"Even in areas where tap water is safe to drink, demand for bottled water is increasing, producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy," according to Emily Arnold, author of the study published by the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington-based environmental group.
Arnold said although in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it can end up costing 10,000 times more.
"At as much as 2.50 dollars per liter (10 dollars per gallon), bottled water costs more than gasoline," the study says.
It added that the United States was the largest consumer of bottled water, with Americans drinking 26 billion liters in 2004, or about one eight-ounce (25 cl) glass per person every day.
Mexico was the second largest consumer at 18 billion liters followed by China and Brazil at 12 billion liters each.
In terms of consumption per person, Italians came first at nearly 184 liters, or more than two glasses a day, followed by Mexico and the United Arab Emirates with 169 and 164 liters per person respectively.
Belgium and France follow close behind and Spain ranks sixth.
The study said that demand for bottled water soared in developing countries between 1999 and 2004 with consumption tripling in India and more than doubling in China during that period.
That has translated into massive costs in packaging the water, usually in plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is derived from crude oil, and then transporting it by boat, train or on land.
"Making bottles to meet Americans' demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 US cars for a year," according to the study. "Worldwide, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year."
Once the water is consumed, disposing the plastic bottles poses an environmental risk.
The study, citing the Container Recycling Institute, said that 86 percent of plastic water bottles in the United States end up as garbage and those buried can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade.
In addition, some 40 percent of the PET bottles deposited for recycling in the United States in 2004 ended up being shipped to China.
The study warned that the rapid growth in the industry has also ironically led to water shortages in some areas, including India where bottling of Dasani water and other drinks by the Coca-Cola company has caused shortages in more than 50 villages.
It said that while consumers tend to link bottled water with healthy living, tap water can be just as healthy and is subject to more stringent regulations than bottled water in many regions, including Europe and the United States.
"In fact, roughly 40 percent of bottled water begins as tap water," the study says. "Often the only difference is added minerals that have no marked health benefits.