Stephen Jardine: Buying bottled water is pouring money down the drain
If we lack one commodity here in Scotland, it’s certainly not water. This summer was the third wettest since records began a century ago. In some places rainfall was up 50 per cent on previous years but that doesn’t seem to have quenched our thirst.
Alongside record rain, this was also the summer when UK sales of bottled water exceeded those of cola for the first time. In the year to July we bought 1.77 billion litres of bottled water compared to 1.72 billion litres of cola. With a sugar tax on fizzy drinks coming next year, total sales of bottled water are expected to rocket to 4.7 billion by 2021. Why?
The tap water we have here in Britain is some of the best anywhere in the world. Despite that our desire for bottled water seems to be unquenchable. Visit any gym, cinema or shopping centre and you will see adults wandering about sucking from their bottles like babies. It is a remarkable testament to the power of marketing and our own collective stupidity.
Here in Scotland we have no excuses. London tap water tastes dreadful, but north of the border our water tastes clean and pure because it is clean and pure. Yet still we insist on paying for it. Alongside an i-phone and a Netflix account, a bottle of mineral water seems to have evolved into a badge of consumer affluence. It says: I’m buying this because I can even if it makes no sense.
There was a time when we believed we needed to be constantly rehydrated and topped up like camels on a never-ending journey. We were told we needed to consume over two litres of water a day just to be healthy. That myth has now been well and truly busted. You only need to be drinking that quantity if going to the loo a lot floats your boat.
Of course there is the issue of the convenience of bottled water and the fact that some people just prefer the taste but there is something else we need to consider as well. The future of the planet.
How can we justify lorry loads of plastic bottles of water trundling around the country when perfectly good stuff comes out of our own taps? The other day I saw a bottle of Fiji Artesian Spring Water in a shop. Fiji is nearly 10,000 miles away.
Many scientists agree that we’ve been had. “The bottled water industry is very largely a scam, and a very expensive one at that, in terms of both money and extravagant carbon footprint,” said Professor Paul Younger, Rankine Chair of Engineering at Glasgow University.
The bad news is, the worst could be still to come. In Los Angeles, the restaurant at the County Museum of Art has a water sommelier who comes armed with a 44 page leather bound water list, featuring bottles from all over the world. Closer to home, the 5-star Merchant Hotel in Belfast offers a menu of 13 different bottled waters, the most expensive costing £26.
Thankfully, in other places sanity prevails. A number of restaurants now bring a jug of tap water without you having to ask for it. Others offer free water in bottles that has been purified for those who need to be reassured by some kind of process.
If you still need to be convinced, try this. Fill an empty bottle of mineral water with water from the tap and leave it for a couple of hours. Then pour it out for your loved ones to taste and no one will spot the difference.