The problem with bottled water
How big is the UK bottled water industry?
The UK bottled water industry was worth £1.5 billion in 2018 and has grown from just over £1 billion since 2013. Between 2017 and 2018, the market expanded by 4.5 per cent.
According to one report, there are 75 businesses in the UK bottled water industry, which support more than 3700 jobs.
Another report found that in terms of consumption, Britons drank 1.9 billion litres of bottled water in 2010, but this had risen to 2.8 billion litres by 2017.
What is bottled water?
The UK bottled drinking water industry is effectively made up of three different drinking water industries, which relate to the production of:
- Natural mineral water
- Spring water
- Bottled drinking water
The UK bottled water industry is regulated by local authorities. Producers of the three different types of bottled water have to follow certain rules, which depend on the type of bottled water being produced. These rules can vary. For example, the properties of natural mineral water must remain unchanged from source to bottling. However, the rules for natural mineral water don’t apply if the product is being exported to countries outside the UK, EU, Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland.
Across the UK bottled water industry, plastic dominates as the material of choice. Around 95 per cent of bottled water bottles were made out of plastic in 2018.
Counting the cost
It seems a natural step that many people have turned to reusable water bottles, since there are a series of environmental costs to be borne by the bottled water industry. These include carbon emissions throughout a plastic water bottle’s life, during production and transport and if not recycled, during incineration. Plastic water bottles may also end up in landfill, the countryside, and beaches and oceans, damaging wildlife habitats.
The Natural Source Waters Association (formerly the National Hydration Council) has reported that 350,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere every year from the UK’s bottled water industry.
Then there is the personal financial cost, as consumers think twice about spending money on containers that are generally only used once.
According to Refill UK, a campaign offshoot of the water companies trade association Water UK, bottled water costs between 500 and 1000 times more than tap. That is in stark contrast to water company, Thames Water, which calculates that its tap water costs just under 1 pence per litre.
Indeed, it is estimated that on average, it takes 1.53 litres of water to produce 1 litre of bottled water.