In Canada in 2005, we consumed about 60 litres per person per year, more than double just five years earlier. In BC 23 percent of us consume at least three-quarters of our daily intake via bottled water. Has something happened to tap water that we need to report? To remedy? Nope.
The bottled water industry worldwide has grown tremendously in the past decade to the point where their marketing has succeeded in putting people off the perfectly safe and refreshing source available to most of us essentially for free: the tap.
Bottled water is water sold to consumers in sealed containers. You might see it represented as spring or mineral water, and it might come from any of various sources and may have been treated and then bottled for sale. Commercial suppliers will often source their water from springs or wells, but some companies sell "purified" water, which is often just treated municipal water. Two of the biggest are Pepsico (with Aquafina) and Coca-Cola (Dasani).
The product, bottled water, is regulated as a food product by Health Canada and needs to meet micro-biological standards at time of packaging. No license is required to sell the product, but providers must adhere to provincial regulations when taking water at source. No directions or regulations exist for storage.
Tap, or municipal water, on the other hand, is closely regulated and tested frequently for all types of contaminants. It is sourced principally from surface water, then goes through rigorous cleaning, filtering and treatment. It is (usually) infused with fluoride to aid in reducing tooth decay. And to ensure continued safety, small amounts of chlorine as used to prevent contamination in distribution.
Still not decided on tap versus bottled water? Let's consider the cost of each. Tap water in Canada is a bargain. In Metro Vancouver, the cost of 1000 litres comes in at about 80 cents; across Canada, the average is $1.14. And bottled water? This mega-dollar business with its skilled marketing strategies and slick packaging charges about the same per litre! Specifically, bottled water in Metro Vancouver costs $527 per 1,000 litres.
"We can afford it," you say? Have you considered all the other costs not yet factored in? First there are the millions (worldwide, billions) of containers manufactured just for this use. Getting them to the bottling plant is a second cost, both economically and environmentally. Once filled, these bottles are packaged and again trucked off to various warehouses, some of which are half way around the world. They are eventually distributed to the local store where consumers buy and again transport the product. And we all know that the heavier the product, the higher the cost of moving it.
Still not enough? Bottles are not biodegradable; recycling captures far less than 100 per cent of these bottles which means millions end up in the waste stream. The carbon emissions and energy spent to produce and distribute bottled water far outweighs any potential, or claimed, benefit.
There is a place for bottled water, but it is not in every person's hand for daily consumption. It is great for emergency preparedness and situations where no drinking water is safe. Just don't think being thirsty at your desk or the kitchen table is an emergency.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for the Sea to Sky.