Monday, 18 February 2008

Drink More Bottled Water

OK, my turn. Bottled Water is a good thing, and I want to celebrate its existence for a few moments.

Over the past few years the bottled water debate has gained momentum, and recently a UK government minister launched a scathing attack on the industry, describing it as verging on being morally indefensible. This article in The Times newspaper is typical of many others, all making the same case against the consumption of bottled water.

But they're all missing an important point, and I really can't believe that very few others can see it (skip to the final paragraph for the abridged argument).

The current position against bottled water states that, given the cheap and plentiful supply of drinking water from the household tap, we consumers should not be encouraging the soft drinks industry to provide an alternative - bottled water - at an unacceptably high cost to the environment. And I wholeheartedly agree. However, this is not the end of the debate. If it were, we'd probably have reached a solution by now.

The simple fact is that bottled water is a product, just like any other soft drink. There it is, in the convenience store chiller cabinet, alongside the colas and fizzies, the fruit drinks, milk drinks, and various others. Bottled water is in competition for sales with all the other soft drinks, and should be considered as a soft drink, not merely as the plain old water we immediately think of.

The entire soft drinks industry, worth around £2 billion annually, exists precisely because we do not want to drink water; we now demand a more interesting alternative. Whether this demand is justified is another debate entirely, but the fact remains that a bottled or canned drink is now both convenient and highly desirable.

Coca Cola is probably one of the best-known brands in the World. In Africa, because of the scarcity of clean water, Coca Cola is probably consumed more often than any other drink. And here lies the main point of my argument: bottled water should be available wherever soft drinks are sold.

Bottled water is the "healthy" alternative to the sweet fizzy drinks on offer. I buy it whenever I'm travelling, simply because I don't want a fizzy drink full of sugar. I just want pure water. Any argument against bottled water is, ultimately, an argument against all bottled or canned soft drinks, which are all comprised mostly of water anyway. What does it matter that one particular type of bottled water is pure, and another type is carbonated, coloured and flavoured, and is sold as cola?

In fact, this argument could be extended to any water-based product sold in bottles, cans or barrels; for example: beers and lagers, themselves mostly made up of water.

Transporting plastic bottles long distances is clearly inefficient, but it would be hypocritical to ban bottled water and not ban other bottled or canned water-based drinks. It would also be nonsense to ban bottled water, when it is the only "healthy" alternative to sweet fizzy drinks. We consumers now expect convenience, and we're unlikely to be prepared enough to carry a drink from home. That's the reality, it's why the soft drinks industry exists, and it's why we need a choice at the drinks counter. Give us the healthy option, and let's keep drinking bottled water.

1 comment:

Ian said...

A well-reasoned article, and I wholeheartedly agree. I also occasionally buy bottled water from cafes etc when I'm out and about with the family. I do so not because I prefer it to tap water, but just because it's a healthy and refreshing option to fizzy soft drinks or coffee.

I think you're right that the argument should be put into context, and we should stop looking at bottled water as an alternative to tap water but instead as part of the soft drinks industry.