Investigation taps the inorganic truth on bottled water
23 Jun 2011
Picture by Peta Doherty
In a project involving students from UTS, City University London and Hong Kong Baptist University, the Global Environmental Journalism Initiative has explored the environmental impact of bottled water from several perspectives
Results of the "Pure Plastiky" investigation have been published by both the Sydney Morning Herald and Crikey.com
When journalism educators and students were looking for an everyday product to investigate from an environmental journalism point of view, bottled water immediately came to mind.
GEJI is a partnership of ten tertiary institutions around the world developing a focus on environmental journalism through student exchange and curriculum development. It is part of the European Union (EU)/Australia Cooperation in Higher Education and Training scheme which is jointly funded by the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and the European Commission.
The GEJI bottled water project Pure Plastiky aims to encourage debate about the environmental impacts of bottled water by researching and tracking Australian brands back to their water sources and the petroleum products used in packaging.
Elise Dalley. Picture by Alexandra Berriman
Project reporter and UTS Journalism Law graduate Elise Dalley said, "We looked at digging deeper into an everyday environmental issue that people often don't think twice about. Bottled water connects with issues of waste, chemicals, water and greenhouse gas emissions.
"We thought initially that it would be quite easy to find out about bottled water, but once we started looking behind the labels at the source of the plastic and the water, it got much trickier."
Several Pure Plasticky stories were first published by the Sydney Morning Herald and Crikey.com. One investigation by Dalley published by the Herald was about how companies are able to avoid laws prohibiting deceptive and misleading conduct by registering a trademark.
"Water is being sold in Sydney as 'organic' despite there being no difference between the bottled water and purified tap water. I believe people would think twice about buying water if they knew it was from a tap," Dalley said. Other reports published in Crikey.com were about the routine use of bottled water by some hospitals in NSW and contamination of bottled water.
The Global Environmental Journalism Initiative explored bottled water from a number of perspectives – marketing, recycling, local government policy and the manufacture of plastic bottles. The range of media included sound slide shows, video stories and surveys.
"Despite its claims about caring about sustainability, the industry was often closed when it came to providing information about production and manufacturing of their water bottles," Dalley said.
"It's a multi-million dollar industry which creates carbon emissions and generates a huge amount of waste. Every time someone buys a bottle of water, they need to weigh up the convenience against the environmental damage the bottle will cause."
Pure Plastiky received extra funding from a UTS teaching and learning grant and involved students from City University London, Hong Kong Baptist University and UTS in conducting surveys about attitude to use and disposal of plastic bottles. The results of 2011 surveys will soon be published.