Over the last 15 years, the bottled-water industry has experienced explosive growth, which shows no sign of slowing. In fact, bottled water – including everything from “purified spring water” to flavored water and water enriched with vitamins, minerals, or electrolytes – is the largest growth area in the beverage industry, even in cities where tap water is safe and highly regulated. This has been a disaster for the environment and the world’s poor.
The environmental problems begin early on, with the way the water is sourced. The bulk of bottled water sold worldwide is drawn from the subterranean water reserves of aquifers and springs, many of which feed rivers and lakes. Tapping such reserves can aggravate drought conditions.
But bottling the runoff from glaciers in the Alps, the Andes, the Arctic, the Cascades, the Himalayas, Patagonia, the Rockies, and elsewhere is not much better, as it diverts that water from ecosystem services like recharging wetlands and sustaining biodiversity. This has not stopped big bottlers and other investors from aggressively seeking to buy glacier-water rights. China’s booming mineral-water industry, for example, taps into Himalayan glaciers, damaging Tibet’s ecosystems in the process.
Much of today’s bottled water, however, is not glacier or natural spring water but processed water, which is municipal water or, more often, directly extracted groundwater that has been subjected to reverse osmosis or other purification treatments. Not surprisingly, bottlers have been embroiled in disputes with local authorities and citizens’ groups in many places over their role in water depletion, and even pollution. In drought-seared California, some bottlers have faced protests and probes; one company was even banned from tapping spring water.
Worse, processing, bottling, and shipping the water is highly resource-intensive. It takes 1.6 liters of water, on average, to package one liter of bottled water, making the industry a major water consumer and wastewater generator. And processing and transport add a significant carbon footprint.
Read more at https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/bottled-water-environmental-risk-by-brahma-chellaney-2015-09#vsAZZry1Ks9YteRY.99