Can You Say No to Bottled Water?

We look at the evolving nature of bottled water markets and if there is a possibility of ethical drinking.

Bottled water has been described as the ‘the new smoking’ according to analysis by Professor Gay Hawkins of Western Sydney University and Associate Professor Kane Race of the University of Sydney. They will share their research and insight into the rapid development of bottled water markets at the Sydney Environment Institute panel, ‘Plastic Water: The Social and Material Life of Bottled Water’, on Wednesday 18 May.

Professor Hawkins and Associate Professor Race will join Kylie Yeend, Education, Engagement and Partnerships Manager at Sydney Water, to consider the impacts of bottled water markets and methods that could compel consumers to say no to the bottle.

Their research, which was behind the book Plastic Water (2015), has identified three significant changes that were necessary to making bottled water markets possible: the development of the PET bottle, the general intensification of branding, and the growth of health aware consumers who were concerned about how much water they should drink.

“PET bottles made water mobile and portable… terms like ‘mountain springs’ and ‘all natural’ worked to implicitly devalue [tap] water… while marketing turned having a drink of water into ‘daily hydration requirements’, these were some of key processes that turned water into a commodity,” said Professor Hawkins.

Associate Professor Race notes that corporations had to engage in “ethical branding” practices to find ways of making the purchase of bottled water seem okay because it became a controversial object from the 1990s. Examples include the pink-capped bottle that Mount Franklin produced during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Thirst Aid Water which promised that a proportion of proceeds would be directed to clean water projects in Africa and Asia.

“There are many aspects of bottled water – its manufacture and impacts – that seem to disappear at the point of purchase, and this is all the more likely to be the case when the industry manages to create associations between the brand and ‘progressive’ social causes,” he said.

Associate Professor Race adds that bottled water has provoked a “plethora of environmental and ethical issues” from massive increases in plastics waste to giving corporations access to water sources that are not adequately protected from gross exploitation, to undermining trust in public water supplies.

Professor Hawkins says their research has also investigated a range of different campaigns including the Polaris institute’s (a Canadian NGO) ‘Inside the Bottle’ that have emerged over the last ten years to oppose bottled water markets.

“You could say that the rise of new markets in single serve water has provoked a defence of public value and a reassertion of the idea that water is something that should be shared, something that should be part of the commons,” she said.

Kylie Yeend says Sydney Water has been working on behaviour change campaigns to empower people to make informed choices about drinking tap water. “For many people they are simply unaware they can safely drink water straight from the tap,” she said.

our Sydney our water is the organisation’s current education campaign to gain the public’s trust and pride in Sydney’s drinking water – an evolvement from the tapTM campaign, which was launched back in 2011.

In addition, the latest National Performance Report by the Bureau of Meteorology shows that Sydney’s drinking water operations have the fourth lowest greenhouse gas emissions of 62 water utilities across Australia despite it being the largest water utility in the southern hemisphere.

“We know that Sydney Water is the most sustainable choice of drinking water – it’s sourced locally and has no packaging,” Ms Yeend said.

The panel is hosted by Tina Perinotto, publisher and editor from The Fifth Estate and co-presented by the Sydney Environment Institute and Sydney Ideas at the University of Sydney.

Event details

What:Plastic Water: The Social and Material Life of Bottled Water
When: Wednesday 23 March, 6.00 to 7.30pm
Where: Law School Foyer, Level 2, Sydney Law School
Cost: Free

Article by Rebecca Simpson


There are many health, financial and environmental benefits of public drinking water over bottled water, such as:
(Information courtesy of Sydney Water)

Bottled water (Health & Safety)
·       According to NSW Health, bottled water is no safer to drink than tap water.

·       There are typically more tests to confirm safety and quality of public drinking water than bottled water.

·       Sydney Water does up to 70 laboratory tests on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual basis, from our water filtration plants to customer’s taps.
Bottled water (Financial)
·       Drinking tap water is the most cost effective way to stay hydrated – especially compared to other hydration options such as bottled. ·       If you live in Sydney, the Blue Mountains or the Illawarra your water use charge is $2.276 for a thousand litres. That’s less than 1c a litre! (However, keep in mind your Sydney Water bill includes more than water use charges.)

·       The average cost of bottled water in Australia is $3.98 for 600mL. That means bottled water is 2,900 times more expensive than Sydney’s drinking water!

·       Australians spent more than $600 million on bottled water last year.

Bottled water (Environment)
·       Drinking water is greater Sydney’s most sustainable form of hydration – as it’s sourced locally and has no packaging. ·       168 million beverage containers are littered in NSW every year.

·       The National Litter Index, an annual survey of litter in the environment, has confirmed that drink containers make up the largest proportion of litter volume in NSW (44% of total litter).

·       In a submission to the NSW Government’s Container Deposit Scheme White Paper, Coca-Cola Amatil has claimed that 96% of beverage containers are already collected through existing systems.

·       At a rate of 4% non-collected, the Boomerang Alliance claims equates to 168 million littered bottles per annum, equal to 17,700 tonnes.

·       The NSW Government has committed to implementing a state wide Container Deposit Scheme by July 2017. Read more here.

·       Bottled water bottles have a large impact on our environment:

o   it takes up to 7 litres of water & 1 litre of oil to produce 1 litre of bottled water

o   most water bottles end up in landfill – 38 percent of the total rubbish volume

o   producing bottled water makes 600 times more carbon dioxide than tap water

o   it takes up to 1,000 years to biodegrade a plastic bottle

o   if you drink an average of 8 glasses of tap water a day instead of purchasing bottled water you will save:

§  1,825 litres of water that would have been used to produce bottled water

§  854.1 kwh of energy every year. That’s a light bulb running for 8,541 hrs

§  11.68 kg in bottled water waste going to landfill every year.