“Water- a bequest of nature” bases all innovations in curbing water crisis to make our blue planet green and sustainable.
Look carefully at the number on the currency note, next time you pay for bottled water! That’s a fraction of what the real cost of bottled water that we as a society end up paying. Don’t believe it? Let’s try to calculate the actual price of that bottle and see who else has to pay for it!
We start paying for the bottled water in some way or the other as early as the plant installation. We would still be paying for it when the industry shuts down. It entails costs pertaining to various aspects such as Health, Environmental, Social, Psychological and Cultural.
Let’s discuss each of them.
The bottled water industry that thrives due to health concerns might become one of the leading causes of health complications in human beings. According to a survey conducted by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) in 1993 (NRDC 1999), 35% of people drink bottled water because they were concerned about tap water safety. On the contrary, As per US GAO (Government Accountability Office) findings, federal government entails more stringent safety regulations on municipal tap water supply than bottled water. Apart from that, the shocking findings based on microplastic contamination have become old news now.
Plastic bottles create ecological nuisance throughout its lifecycle. To begin with, drilling of oil in order to make plastic uses a considerable amount of groundwater. Plants that use Reverse Osmosis for water purification lose three to nine gallons of water for every filtered and purified gallon of water. The overall maintenance and cleaning of the plant require a significant amount of municipal water. Not only that, the packaging process requires its own share of water. The water footprint for bottled water industry is so huge that Ertug Ercin (with the Water Footprint Network) mentions that Bottled water companies, along with many beverage companies should include water in their supply chain.
Bottling plants can also adversely affect local water supplies. Pumping large quantities of water can deplete underground aquifers that supply water to local communities and aquatic wildlife habitats (EPI, 2006). The underground aquifers are laterally spread across the Earth's landmass which means that indiscriminately extracting water from one region can deplete the water resource from another region. BBC reported, “Nestle extracted 36 million gallons of water from a national forest in California last year to sell as bottled water, even as Californians were ordered to cut their water use because of a historic drought in the state”. California is now in its fifth year of draught!
Even in India, multinational giant Coca-Cola operates 58 water-intensive bottling plants. Plachimada village in Kerala is hit by persistent draughts which have dried up groundwater and local wells with villagers blaming ‘Water Mining’ practices by Coca-Cola for aggravating the problem!
Highlighting the energy costs, from making the plastic bottles to finally transporting them to market, researchers from California’s Pacific Institute concluded that the energy equivalent of about 160 million barrels of oil takes to satisfy the annual global demand of bottled water. It is almost 2000 times the energy required to produce the equivalent volume of tap water. The vast majority of energy required in the manufacturing of bottled water occurs during the production of plastic water bottles and transportation (Pacific Institute, 2009). Water weighs one metric ton per cubic meter. It is apparent that the cost of logistics would be enormous.
The problem doesn’t stop with bottled water production. The recycling process of plastic bottles involves its own share of ecological damage. When bottles are burnt in industrial incinerators, hazardous materials such as chlorine and dioxin can be released into the air (CRI, 2007)
According to the report on SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACT OF COMMERCIAL EXPLOITATION OF WATER BY INDUSTRIES, the standing committee mentioned, “Every State agreed that these commercial companies are not contributing either for the growth of water development or towards the cause of the general public. The trade of the Packaged Drinking Water Industry runs into billions of rupees without paying any tax or contribution in any welfare schemes”
Many people perceive that bottled water for quenching thirst is a cooler way of hydration. The convenience and availability of bottled water add to this attitude. There is also a tendency to get accustomed to the products used on the frequent basis which is why Arthur Von Wiesenberger (author of The Pocket Guide to Bottled Water and a consultant to the beverage industry) says, “People don't go backwards, once they've developed a taste for bottled water, they won't give it up”
Let’s study the impact of the bottled water industry on our ‘Culture’ by analyzing the situation in San Christobal - one of the rainiest regions in Mexico.
The picturesque mountains and lush highlands of Chiapas! The greenery, the churches, the multicolored buildings, Sumidero Canyon, the beautiful countryside and coffee! It’s also a place which gets to see water in its taps once in two days. According to a resident, the water they finally get to see is so heavily chlorinated that it’s undrinkable. Coca-Cola has secure access to one of the best water sources at San Cristobal, to extract more than 300,000 gallons of water every day. The region otherwise lacks basic water and sanitation facilities. Thanks to the aggressive marketing campaigns by Coke and Pepsi that started in the 1960s, the city resorts to more than two litres of soda a day on an average. The local health advocates say that these campaigns have helped embed sugary soft drinks into local religious practices, which blend Catholicism with Maya rituals. Due to the predominant soft-drink culture, Diabetes in Chiapas is now the second-leading cause of death in the state, claiming more than 3,000 lives every year.
The aforementioned implications clearly portray that bottled water industry has engulfed the globe; it’s feeding on our Earth like a parasite! Plastic never completely breaks down. Generations after your existence, the plastic that you have used today might still be lingering on our planet. Would our conscience accept the fact that we are the assassins of the environment? Saying ‘NO’ to plastic would be an integral step in saving our planet. Some eco-conscious organizations have come up with environmentally friendly alternatives. Some of them are discussed below.
360 Paper Water Bottle is made of bamboo or palm leaves and is 100% recyclable. It can be produced on a single line so extra packaging cost is eliminated. Since they can be bundled together, they can be handled and carried as one unit by the finger loops.
A UK-based start-up has come up with a novel idea of edible plastic namely ‘Ooho balls’. They are biodegradable alternatives resembling large bubbles made with a jelly-like membrane and prepared with plant and seaweed extracts. The membrane decomposes after four to six weeks if not consumed.
Another 100% plastic free innovation is ‘Choose Water’. Ocean or landfill, wherever it lands up, the bottle decomposes within just three weeks.
Some conventional alternatives to plastic bottles are glass and stainless-steel reusable bottles.
Other alternatives to bottled water are Point of Use and Point of Entry purification systems. They make hydration a lot easier as the existing municipal water supply can be purified and dispensed at the source itself. Institutions and organizations need to initiate a reduction in bottled water usage. Installing Point of Use purification systems at approachable places would set the ball rolling. Drinking water stations would automatically develop a community drinking culture. People can directly drink the purified water or refill their reusable bottles. Keeping a reusable water bottle in hand and refilling it as and when required is the best way to stay hydrated even during busy hours.
How sad is the fact that with environmental hazards surrounding us from all sides, we prefer buying water pulled out from Fiji or the Himalayas. Wouldn’t it just mean that we are finding newer ways to spread our reach of places to pollute? Where would the water come from after all the freshwater lakes get extinct?The plastic-war is on, it’s time to face the monster and fight the battle for our planet.
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