Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bottled water – is it the new eco-disaster?

 Victorians are fortunate to have access to high quality tap water. However, many people in Victoria still consume bottled water in preference to tap water believing that it tastes better and has health benefits. Read the following newspaper article to get the low down on how the consumption of bottled water in Australia, and the World, is fast becoming a costly habit on our wallets and on our environment.

Bottled water the 'new eco-disaster'

By Catharine Munro, The Age, February 26, 2006
Australians' love affair with bottled water has left environmentalists worried about the toll on the planet.
With 65 per cent of plastic drink bottles ending up in landfill, they are calling for better recycling services.
The popularity of bottled water is rising at a rate of 10 per cent a year in Australia.
About 550 million litres were consumed in 2004-05, according to the Australian Beverage Council, with most purchases being made in addition to soft drinks, rather than replacing them.
The plastic water bottles are becoming a major environmental hazard. They suck up valuable fuels to make.
They also create mountains of rubbish when they are thrown away.
Environmental scientist Tim Grant said it was "counter-intuitive" that bottled water was such a successful product. "People pay $2.50 for something that's free," he said.
A recent report by the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute said global consumption of bottled water rose 57 per cent from 1999 to 2004 to 154 billion litres. Much of the growth came from countries such as Australia, where most tap water is just as high a quality as anything that can be bought.
Packaging worldwide required 2.7 million tonnes of plastic each year, the report's author, Emily Arnold, said.
The manufacture of bottles used up 1.5 million barrels of crude oil in the US because the plastic is made from the fossil fuel, Ms Arnold said.
"In contrast to tap water, which is distributed through an energy-efficient infrastructure, transporting bottled water long distances involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels," she said.
In Australia, the energy cost of buying water instead of drawing it from a tap was comparable to driving a car, said Mr Grant, who is the assistant director of design at RMIT University.
While driving a car for one kilometre used four megajoules of energy, drinking a 600-millilitre bottle of water used 1.5 megajoules, when the transport costs were included.
By contrast, drinking water out of a tap used only 0.2 megajoules, Mr Grant said. And when they are no longer wanted, water bottles were taking up space in landfill sites.
While Australians are enthusiastic recyclers at home, they don't get the opportunity with bottled water because it's usually bought when people are out at the movies, at the beach or shopping.
"Australia's recycling system does not collect away-from-home waste," Total Environment Centre director Jeff Angel said.
Of the 118,000 tonnes of drink bottle plastic consumed every year, only 35 per cent of it was recycled, he said.
People should bring their own water containers.
"It's like shopping bags, it's the same problem," Mr Angel said.
"There's an argument for people putting their own tap water into containers."
In South Australia, where consumers can redeem a deposit for drink containers, the bottles made up less than 10 per cent of the state's rubbish, compared with 13.4 per cent nationally.
Drink bottles also take up more space than other waste, comprising 38 per cent of total volume of litter. They appear mostly in parks and floating on the waterfront, according to statistics from Clean Up Australia. They are deadly for thirsty wildlife, which get trapped inside containers.
"They are attractive, they catch the light and they are shiny, so little animals see them and get in," Clean Up Australia spokeswoman Therrie-Ann Johnson said.
Consumers needed deposit schemes to encourage them not to throw away their bottles, Ms Johnson said. The not-for-profit organisation was in talks with private companies to establish public recycling at shopping centres.
However, ensuring a recycling bin at public locations was difficult because beaches, parks and shopping centres were run by a wide range of groups, from listed companies to municipal councils.
Information sourced from BOTTLED WATER: Pouring resources down the drain by Emily Arnold Feb 2006. Earth Policy Institute -www.earthpolicy.org.


  1. How much bottled water was consumed by Australians in 2004-05?
  2. What percentage of all plastic drink bottles end up in landfill in Australia?
  3. If 118,000 tonnes of plastic bottles are consumed every year what weight of plastic bottles end up in landfill?
  4. Assume that most bottled water (550million litres) consumed in Australia is sold in 600ml plastic bottles. Based on this assumption approximately 916 million plastic bottles potentially could be recycled in Australia each year. On current figures 65 per cent of all plastic drink bottles end up in landfill. Based on these figures how many bottled water bottles are likely to go to landfill each year?
  5. Consumption of bottled water is rising by 10 per cent each year in Australia. On these predictions how much bottled water is likely to be consumed in Australia by 2010? How many bottles to landfill will that mean?
  6. What are plastic drink bottles made out of?
  7. According to this article why are bottled water bottles recycled less than other recyclable items?
  8. How could Australia reduce the number of plastic bottles that go to landfill each year?
  9. Why is bottled water an environmental hazard compared to water obtained from the tap? Think of energy use, resource use and waste disposal.
  10. Draw a life cycle diagram for bottled water.
  11. Apart from the environmental problems that bottled water causes it is also very expensive. Tap water costs 75 cents for 1000 litres while bottled water is sold at $2,400 per 1000 litres! (assuming $1.50 for a 600 mlbottle).
    • Calculate how much a litre of tap water costs.
    • Calculate how much a litre of bottled water costs.
    • If you drank 2 litres of tap water instead of 2 litres of bottled water how much money would you save?
    • Calculate the dollar ($) saving for your class, then your school population, if everyone brought tap water from home in their own reuseable water bottle instead of buying bottled water at the next sporting event.
    • How many plastic water bottles would be saved?
  12. After reading the article and answering the questions what do you think about bottled water?
  13. Design a poster to promote drinking tap water from a reusable container.

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