Saturday, June 21, 2014

Downing our supply of fresh water, one bottle at a time

Bottled water has soared in popularity over the last decade. But is this rise due to necessity, or fad? 
 by Brandon Janse Van Vuuren

According to South Africa's Bill of Rights, "[e]veryone has the right to [...] sufficient food and water."

However, the term "everyone" here is not clearly defined: does it only apply to the current population, or does it include future generations as well? At the current rate at which fresh water sources are being depleted, this basic human right might not be applicable in the next few decades.

According to, a mere 3% of this planet’s water can be referred to as fresh water supply, meaning water that is safe for human consumption. This figure, however, does not take into account the amount of polluted fresh water in the world's supply, and as the figures of pollution and wastage rise, our fresh water supply continues to decrease.

Water is one of our vital and most precious resources, but consumers tend to ignore the current issue of water over-consumption and wastage. There are various parties to blame in this potentially disastrous state of affairs: governments are to blame for not providing proper sanitation or equitable access to drinking water, businesses in the private sector are responsible for pollution and for poor management of water resources, and consumers are blamed for the overuse of water. One of the most wasteful activities which contributes to the depletion of our water supply is drinking bottled water.
The amount of water worldwide (1) as compared to the fresh water supply (2).

According to Donald McCallum from Wits University in Johannesburg, it takes up to three litres of fresh water to produce one litre of bottled water. Due to poor trust in governments and misconceptions of water purification regulations, popular culture has led people to believe that tap water is not safe for human consumption, and that it could be damaging to your health. However, McCallum states that "[t]here are rigorous standards that tap water must meet."

The International Bottled Water Association reported in 2011 that in the United States, there were 9107.3 million gallons of bottled water consumed in that year; that is roughly 34474.8 million litres of water, with an estimated 68949.6 million litres of fresh water going to waste. This is fresh water from sources that often cannot be replenished, and these sources are drying up at an alarming rate.

There are acceptable uses of bottled water, such as the use of bottled water in disaster areas, or the provision of bottled water in places where there is limited or no access to fresh water. In these cases bottled water is a necessity, but for most consumers it is merely a matter of convenience, and one which comes at a much higher price ecologically than many consumers are aware of.

As for the health concerns, most developed and developing countries have stringent processes for treating drinking water, and South Africa ranks highly in terms of the quality of water. A useful way to avoid buying bottled water is to make use of a reusable bottle; carry it with you and fill it regularly with tap water. In this way we can safeguard our water supply for generations to come.