bottled water

The Scourge Of Bottled Water

I think we are all aware that in the last decade or so, bottled water has become quite popular in South Africa. The reasons people give are:

  1. it’s purer (therefore healthier)
  2. tastes better than tap water
  3. it’s convenient

The other reason which few people would admit to is that it makes you look cooler and wealthier if you spurn tap water. If you want to look cool at the cost of the environment, then I guess you’re that special kind of person and nothing anybody says will change that.

In some countries the tap water tastes terrible. We used to holiday a lot in Spain as my grandparents lived there and the although the tap water was potable, it tasted so terrible we drank bottled water rather. In (most of) South Africa, especially Cape Town, the tap water tastes great. Some people like to filter it through a filter jug first which can make it taste even better.

If you drink bottled water because you think it’s healthier, then read on. In 1997, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization concluded that bottled water does not have greater nutritional value than tap water. That’s assuming the water is actually from a natural source because another study found that approximately 40% of bottled water is tap water, some of which has been treated futher (Bonaqua anyone?). There is no way of knowing where the water comes from and what has been done to it because bottled water in SA is not regulated. This is an important point because tap water has to be tested regularly (I think twice a day) for any sort of contamination, but there have been several incidents around the world where people have become ill or even died from drinking contaminated bottled water as it is not regulated.

In addition, if the water is in plastic bottles for a long time, it can absorb harmful things with funny names from the plastic and they can give you cancer and other problems. How long do you think water (especially imported) sits around on trucks and in warehouses and on the supermarket shelf?

bottled water

As for convenience, we really need to make changes in our lives and start taking responsibility for our environmental footprint. Sure, recycling is inconvenient, but we need to do it. Not fishing for crayfish even though we have a permit because it is red-listed may be inconvenient, but we have to make the sacrifice. How difficult is it to get a reusable bottle and fill it with filtered water to take with us for the day or take to the beach or on that hike? It’s really not that much effort. Deal with it.

Why must we do this? Look at the environmental impact of consuming bottled water. MILLIONS of tons of plastic pollution which takes up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Large scale consumption of fossil fuels to make the plastic bottles, large scale consumption of fossil fuels to transport them (a large percentage of water is drunk outside the country it was bottled in) and large scale depletion of water reserves which serve a purpose in sensitive ecology webs.

That’s a very quick and simple explanation of the environmental impact of bottled water because I know nobody pays attention to details and stats. But people love videos, so take a few minutes to watch this video (from which explains the impact of bottled water.

I think the best option is to get a good quality water filter and drink filtered tap water.

Think about it then join our Facebook page Say No To Bottled Water.

Follow these links of you want to learn more:

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2006 and has been updated with more current info.


12 responses to “The Scourge Of Bottled Water”

  1. Jean McFarlane

    Fine – I will think about it! Perhaps – even DO something about it. For now – I will start by drinking local. Local is mos lekker.

  2. One of the problems in SA is that generally the restaurants push bottled water (for obvious reasons) and often you have to be quite insistent before they relent and bring you tap water. I’ve just returned from a trip to Australia/New Zealand, and over there the default is that as you sit down they bring you a bottle of tap water plus glasses with the menus. Something to be encouraged.

    1. Yes, and it was like that in Australia when I was there 10 years ago, we really need to catch up!

  3. Just a random thought on our tap water. I must have been in high school, and I remember our Bio teacher saying South Africa is one of 12 countries worldwide where you can drink straight from the tap.

  4. An interesting post. I have drunk South African tap water, straight from the tap, and unfiltered, all my life. I’ve only ever once bought bottled water, and that was in London, where the tap water that came out of the faucet was yellow and stinky.

  5. We made a decsion a year ago that Charly’s bakery would not sell bottled water at all. Previously we sold about 5 cases a week. We keep cold water in our fridges and offer it to our customers who ask for bottled water and offer to fill our customers’ bottles if they need water for later. Many people have refillable bottles which they fetch for us to fill.
    People really appreciate it when we tell them that we do not want the profit from polluting the enviroment. I have not had one customer complaint about not selling bottled water.
    More restaurants need to have the courage to make this choice. We are in a position of influence where we can make a huge difference. Just our bakery saves 5800 plastic bottles from going into waste per year.

  6. That’s great to hear, Jacqui. Keep up the good work. As you say, we need more places to do that.

    &Union has a filter water tap with glasses next to it so patrons can just help themselves or fill a bottle.

    I’d like to compile a list of places that are doing things like this.

    Jane-Anne, good to hear that you have not fallen for the propaganda.

  7. Hi Dax,

    Good article. Read more about the scourge of botttled water in a piece I did recently.

    Best, Clare.

  8. Check out my review of Tapped, a documentary about the bottled water industry, here:

  9. Yup, I agree completely. Have never seen the point of bottled water to be brutally honest. Think it’s nothing more than a gimmick and somewhat of a status symbol – “ooh look at me swigging Evian”.

  10. the main reason why restaurants don’t filter and bottle their own water (still and sparkling) is the cost of the filtration system, more than R40k!. we will continue to provide tap water on request, but will still sell bottled water as some people ask for it.
    Our green contribution is to recycle as much as we can, including glass & plastic.

  11. Stuart – OurAction

    Hey all,

    Well well, what a nice suprise! I sat down with my coffee in hand looking at the sun shining on Table Mountain and I stumble over this post. What wonderful things you are all chatting about. My name is Stuart and I am presently doing a lot of work on understanding how to create effective awareness towards the ‘issues’ of climate change. When it comes to recycling, and awraenss therein, there is so much that can be done, especially in this beautiful country full of fresh excitement and ideas! I am looking to gather as much information about the production, use and further recycling or ‘downclycling’of products (for now) here in South Africa. If you have information please feel free to fire it through to me, or if you would like to know more of what I am up to please do get in touch. I am, with an incredible team of people, looking to launch a recycling network late this year which is very exciting. There is so much good work going on here, people just don’t see it yet.

    I really like to see the posts from the restaurants, its great to hear that you guys are ot only tackling bottled water directly but more importantly have the awareness and understanding to do something about it, great stuff! It really is quite daunting when you take a look at the statistics. I once read in a paper that the amount of crude oil it takes to fulfil the worlds bottled water demand in a year is enough to power 1 million cars for that same period, now thats nuts!!! A whole lot of emmissions. I try not to throw stats out randomly, often difficult to put into context but also these things change rapidly, so please don’t take that as definitive truth!

    Thank you Dax for posting this article, it is important that we have people utilising their long wekends learning about the environment around us :o). I say again, if anyone wants information or has information please do get in touch. I have interest in competing with anyone, I really just want to raise the awareness and attempt to get coheisive and convenient systems up and running.

    Keep smilin out there and keep up the good work!


    Stuart Fairbairns
    Sculptor / Environmentalist / Photographer
    [c] +27 (0) 84 751 1771