Posted by: waterworks | February 18, 2008

20. Water Miles (3)

February 2008 has seen both Britain’s media and its politicians declaring war on the bottled water industry and the excessive distances that bottled water is travelling to reach the UK.  Stunning facts have been presented by newspapers, including the news that one in five people are apparently “too scared” to ask for tap water in restaurants.  Other choice data  are as follows: 

  • Britons drink three billion bottles of bottled water every year.  Half a billion are flown or shipped in from overseas, leaving a huge carbon footprint.
  • Transporting bottled water in the UK is estimated to produce about 33,200 tons of carbon dioxide emissions – equivalent to the annual energy use of 6,000 homes). 
  • A bottle of Waiwera water (from New Zealand) travels 18,000 km to reach the UK. 

Additional facts that may help explain why many environmentalists view the mass consumption of bottled water as normalised insanity include: 

  • Tap water is on average 500 times cheaper than bottled. 
  • An adult drinking eight glasses a day would pay just £1 a year through their tap water charges, and £500 a year if they drank a mid-range mineral water. 
  • Collectively we spend five times more on bottled water each year than it would cost to end the annual 1.8 million deaths of children from waterborne illness. 
  • It takes 162g of oil and seven litres of water (including power plant cooling water) just to manufacture a one-litre bottle, creating over 100g of greenhouse gas emissions (10 balloons full of CO2) per empty bottle. 
  • To make the 29bn plastic bottles used annually in the US, the world’s biggest consumer of bottled water, requires more than 17m barrels of oil a year, enough to fuel more than a million cars for a year. 
  • Americans throw 30m water bottles into landfill every day. 

All is not lost, however.  Government ministers acting alongside Thames Water (the UK’s biggest water provider) are reported by The Guardian newspaper as seeking “to end a long-standing culture of tap water snobbery by urging restaurants and cafes to routinely serve free tap water to their customers”.  Environmentally-conscious consumers may also now be voting with their wallets.  UK sales of the main brands of bottled water fell by 3.4 per cent last year, and 8.1 per cent for own brands.  Unfortunately, falling bottled water sales are unlikely to be helpful for the down-turning British economy, whose recent plight has become the main pre-occupation of both media and politicians (when not casting aspersions on the relatively buoyant bottled water retail sector).



  1. I worked in restaurants for years and there is a snobby culture about tables asking for tap water, I have no idea why!

    Good article I was looking for some info on my blog.

  2. Thanks Nick. It’s form of snobbery I guess, where some waiting staff perceive people as being less well-off because they have to order tap – whereas people may well be doing it because (a) they resent paying for something that should be free and (b) they have genuine concerns about avoiding needless bottle waste.

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