What is SANBWA and what are its objectives?

SANBWA is an organisation of water bottling companies that adheres to a set of stringent standards to ensure that consumers can enjoy safe, sustainable bottled water of the highest quality.

Formed in 1997 as a standards setting and representative body as a not-for-profit organisation, it is committed to working with its members to promote the image and reputation of bottled water through adherence to global benchmarked standards.

At the same time, it works with its members to continuously improve and conserve their water sources, which are predominantly groundwater sources, and reduce the industry’s impact on the environment.


How does SANBWA influence quality and safety of bottled waters?

Membership of SANBWA is voluntary but strictly controlled, and comprises bottlers of all classes of bottled water (natural, defined by origin and prepared) whose primary concern is the health, safety and pleasure of their consumers. They therefore willingly conform to the extremely stringent safety and quality measures contained in the SANBWA Bottled Water Standard.

What does this Standard cover and guarantee?

In addition to the usual introduction, scope and terminology and reference sections, the SANBWA Standard contains specifications (for source water, natural water and packaged water, and labelling), details about the audit scheme and process, and the Standard requirements and check list as they pertain to:

  • Management responsibility
  • Quality management system
  • Food safety plan
  • Resource management
  • Control of operations
  • Environmental stewardship


A single standard covering legal, hygiene, food safety and quality, and environmental requirements, the SANBWA Bottled Water Standard benchmarks favourably against international standards and:

  • ensures legal compliance
  • is fully auditable so that a single audit can ensure that all legal and food safety requirements have been met thereby protecting the bottler and enabling it to prove due diligence
  • helps bottlers identify the areas where they still need to improve
  • assists retailers and consumers to select suppliers of safe bottled water

What does the SANBWA logo represent?

The SANBWA logo was inspired by an ostrich egg, used by the San Bushmen as containers and for carrying water. We believe the egg not only symbolises our values of honesty and integrity, but the natural, safe content of the water, its African origins and also offers consumers peace of mind. READ MORE

What is the difference between bottled water and other waters, such as tap water and water from benchtop fillers?

In South Africa, bottled water (or packaged water, as it is referred to in the legislation – the public and bottlers often use these terms interchangeably) is regarded as a food product and as such is governed by the Department of Health. Briefly, the Department of Health views waters as follows:

  • Drinking water
  • Tap water is regarded as drinking water and needing to comply with public water supply regulations
  • Re-filling into the consumer’s own containers as drinking water not within the scope of packaged water legislation
  • Public water supply
  • Bulk water transported in tankers to distribute to rural or urban areas as public water supply, and not within the scope of packaged water legislation
  • Packaged water
  • Bulk water in large bottles for office coolers as packaged water, and needing to comply with packaged water legislation
  • Bottled water as packaged water, and needing to comply with packaged water legislation
  • Bench-top treated waters and shop-floor treated waters bottled on site as packaged water, and needing to comply with packaged water legislation


Why water, why bottled water?

If the question is ‘why water?’ the answer is like the planet we inhabit, our bodies comprise mostly water – the brain is 85% water, our blood is 90% water, and the liver, one of our most vital organs, is 96% water. Water — in all its forms — is therefore a vital component of our diet, as well as the healthiest beverage option for societies plagued by diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

If the question is ‘why bottled water?’ the answer is bottled water is the best packaged beverage option for the environment. It has the lightest environmental footprint of all packaged beverages — one that can be reduced by 25% if consumers were to simply recycle the bottle.

Can you compare tap water with bottled water?

No, tap water (or drinking water, as it is referred to in the legislation) and bottled/packaged water cannot be compared in terms of legislated category and quality because they need to comply with different standards and legislation.


Does the South African bottled water industry have as large a water footprint as everyone claims?

Water Footprint is a concept that evaluates the amount of water needed to produce an item of consumption: for example, the production of 1 kg of beef requires 16 000 litres of water. And no, the bottled water industry doesn’t have a large water footprint.

By comparison, to produce 1 kg of maize requires 900 litres of water, one cup of coffee needs 140 litres of water and to produce 1 sheet of A4 paper requires 10 litres of water. Bottled water’s is 1.8 litres.

Is the bottled water industry sustainable?

Yes, it is because it has a low water usage ration and protects its source waters. ‘Water usage’ refers to how much water is used to make one finished product; in bottled water’s case, one litre of bottled water.

This measure includes both direct and indirect water usage (in the bottled water industry, that would be water for rinsing and sanitising bottles, plant and general cleaning and sanitation, vehicle washing, floor washing, toilets etc.) and includes water from boreholes and municipal source.

The South African industry water usage benchmark is 1.8:1. There are plants that achieve ratios of as low as 1.3:1. SANBWA’s figures show that, when it comes to total annual consumption, this benchmark ratio equates to 22.7 litres/second.

By comparison, a golf course uses 1 litre/second per hole or 18 litres/second for an 18-hole golf course – so the total South African bottled water industry’s use is just slightly more than the equivalent used by one and a half golf courses. The fruit export industry uses 0.5 litres/second/hectare making the total South African bottled water industry’s use equivalent to that of just one 45-hectare farm.

All SANBWA members who bottle natural water and waters defined by origin (as defined by are required to only bottle water extracted from a sustainable source, and this source is groundwater.

South African legislation covering the use of groundwater is well developed, and is directed towards ensuring the sustainability of our water resources, rather than depleting them. When assessing the sustainability of South Africa’s groundwater, consideration has to be given to the groundwater recharge rate, and then ensuring that this rate is not exceeded.

The total water consumption by the bottled water industry (production volumes plus incidental use) in 2011 was 0.72 million m3. This equates to only 0.013% of the country’s total groundwater usage.

According to research done by Alan Woodford & Peter Rosewarne, SRK Consulting, and Jan Girman, Department of Water Affairs & Forestry, the Potable Groundwater Exploitation Potential (PGEP) of aquifers in South Africa is estimated at 14 802 million m3, which declines to 12 626 million m3 during a drought.

That means that there is at least 12 700 million m3 of groundwater available for use each year, given the current recharge rates (calculated as a percentage of rainfall) of 20% or more in the Cape mountain ranges, 2% to 3% in the Karoo and 3% to 8% in Gauteng.

Does SANBWA have an environmental policy?

SANBWA’s main role with respect to environmental stewardship is to ensure our members’ environmental responsibility is met. We achieve this by including benchmarks and minimum requirements in our SANBWA Standard, and measuring member compliance during the annual SANBWA Standard audit. (

Does SANBWA have a water stewardship policy?

Water stewardship, which places a priority on partnerships and capacity building, is a recent concept that sees high volume water users taking both responsibility for and credit for responsible water management, right across the water usage cycle. SANBWA’s environmental policy addresses issues of good water stewardship.


Developed over many years and based on wide review and consultation, the single standard benchmarks favourably against international standards and provides existing and new bottlers with a vision for future improvements by putting six main elements under the spotlight:

  • management commitment
  • quality systems
  • resources (including pre-requisite programs)
  • operational controls
  • environmental stewardship


Is there fluoride in natural water??

The great majority of South African bottled waters contain very little fluoride, with only one or two having fluoride up to 1 mg/L. As far as we (SANBWA) know, no South African bottled water is over the 1 mg/L level

Fluoride has a very interesting role in the human diet: too little fluoride has a negative health effect, a little fluoride has a positive health effect, and too much fluoride has a negative health effect. The optimum level of fluoride in domestic water for South Africa is about 0.7 milligrams per litre (mg/L) which is 0.7 parts per million. The range is 1.0 mg/L for cold climate conditions (winter in the Cape) down to 0.5 mg/L for very hot climate (summer in Northern Cape). The differing levels are related to the amount of water that is consumed in the different temperatures.

If fluoride intake is too low, then children and young adults will be susceptible to dental caries. For this reason, fluoridation of public water supplies (fluoride is added to the water in the water purification plant) is practised in many countries, and over 500 million people benefit from this program. It is estimated that fluoridation reduces dental caries by up to 40% in young adults.

Unfortunately, fluoridation is not practised in South Africa. For wealthier households in South Africa, fluoride supplements are often given to young children and young adults. Fluoride is also available via toothpaste.

Unfortunately, poor and impoverished communities often cannot afford these measures and they are the people least able to help themselves. The cost of fluoridation is estimated at about R1 per year per person, which is about 1/60th the cost of 1 filling. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has listed fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. This is along with vaccination, family planning and the damages of smoking.

Too much fluoride results in a condition called “dental fluorosis”. This is a brown stain on the teeth. At low levels this is not a health issue, but rather an aesthetic issue, as brown stained teeth are not attractive to our current concept if attractiveness.

The irony of this is that these teeth are resistant to caries. Tooth fluorosis occurs when the levels of fluoride in domestic water exceed 3 to 5 mg/L. At much higher levels of fluoride, i.e. at levels well over 10 mg/L then skeletal damage can occur in children and young adults. This can result in stunted growth and/or brittle bones.

In South Africa, bottled water is regarded as a food product, and is regulated by the Department of Health as such. The Packaged Water Regulation states that “packaged water containing more than 1 mg/l fluoride, shall have the expression “contains fluoride” affixed in close proximity to the name of the water or in a prominent place on the label.

If it contains more than 1.5 mg/l fluoride, the expression “this product is not suitable for infants and children under the age of seven years” shall be affixed in close proximity to the name of the water or in a prominent place in the label”. These are the guidelines of CODEX, and South Africa’s Department of Health has adopted these same guidelines into our Packaged Water legislation.

The great majority of South African bottled waters contain very little fluoride, with only one or two having fluoride up to 1 mg/L. As far as we (SANBWA) know, no South African bottled water is over the 1 mg/L level and thus none carry the warning “not suitable for infants or children”.

The website is extensive and an accurate and interesting read on the subject. In addition to the technical detail, it also presents a section on the controversy regarding the fluoridation of public water supplies.

In South Africa the Department of Health are keen to initiate fluoridation. This is especially needed in our poorer communities where high sugar intake is promoting dental caries. Unfortunately, the very vocal (and able to afford private fluoride supplements) opposition to fluoridation has so far stymied the initiation of fluoridation in South Africa.

How does one interpret the pH of bottled natural water?

pH of groundwater is controlled by the rock type through which the groundwater percolates. The minerals in the rock slowly dissolve and undergo chemical changes due to the interaction with the groundwater. Thus, the composition of the parent rock will determine the pH and, of course, the mineral content of the groundwater – and thus of bottled water.

Generally, groundwater pH ranges from about 6.0 to 8.5, with one important rock type, namely the quartzites of the Western Cape often yielding a pH lower than 6.0.

The quartzites of the Western Cape comprise of 99.5% pure silica, or quartz. There are no minerals that yield any buffering capacity, and the result is a groundwater with a pH often as low as 5.0. The cause of this low pH has been extensively studied and is ascribed to a combination of three factors, namely zero buffer capacity, presence of dissolved CO2 and colloidal organic acids derived from the fynbos vegetation at surface. This water is NOT polluted or contaminated in any manner: it is a natural water. This low pH gives the water a very refreshing taste profile and is preferred by many consumers.

Groundwater obtained from granites and other similar igneous rocks, as well as most sedimentary rocks, generally have pH in the range of 6.5 to 7.5. There is some buffer capacity, but not an excess of carbonate minerals.

Groundwater obtained from the Dolomites of Western Transvaal, Gauteng and Mpumalanga, as well as other formations with a high calcareous component, usually have pHs of between 7.5 to 8.5.

SANBWA does not specify pH levels as the pH is a natural consequence of the geology of the aquifer. Low or high pH has no health impact or effect on the consumer.

In contrast, treated water obtained from municipal reticulation systems always has the pH adjusted to about 7.6. This is done by adding chemicals to the incoming water. In the case of low pH, it is done by adding lime (calcium carbonate) and, in the case of high pH, by adding acids. The purpose is to have water in the reticulation system that will not corrode the piping (in the case of low pH water), nor will the piping clog up due to the precipitation of calcium carbonate (in the case of high pH water).

The phrase ‘too low’ does not come into consideration for a natural water.

It is only treated municipal water that has a specified pH range – and this is nothing to do with health effects, it is about protecting the reticulation system.

Polluted mine water will have a low pH hence the term acid mine drainage – a problem that Gauteng is grappling with. This pH is down to 2.0, but there is a plethora of other indicators such, as heavy metals in these waters as well as radioactivity.

Are PET bottles responsible for all the marine pollution?

Unfortunately, plastic is responsible for the lion’s share of marine pollution. In fact, a 2020 study by a research team from UCT showed that plastic items, including foamed plastics and cigarette butts, accounted for 92% to 99% of litter items by number, and 85% to 94% by mass.

However, bottlers and their suppliers are not the culprits, intentionally or inadvertently discarding plastic waste (’t-ban-it-make-it-more-valuable-collectable). They alone shouldn’t be held culpable for it, nor responsible for its remediation.

If we want to wisely address such issues, we would do well to be guided by the profound observation of Confucius, a 6th Century Chinese philosopher, who said: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name”.

Sadly, those who should know better, who should take responsibility for educating and informing the world’s citizens – the media, opinionmakers, thought leaders – often don’t. For example, a campaign launched in 2019 by the South African arm of a well-respected international non-governmental organisation working in the field of the wilderness preservation and the reduction of human impact on the environment claimed that only 16% of plastics in South Africa are recycled.

But, for 2018, Plastics SA reported that 46.3% of all plastic in South Africa was recycled, while PETCO’s post-consumer recycling rate for PET was 62% in 2019. That’s math that just doesn’t add up and, adding insult to injury, when asked, the NGO refused to disclose the source of that 16%. Plastics SA and PETCO’s figures are, however, audited and available for scrutiny.

The same campaign also ranked water bottles in 4th position on its Top 10 list of South Africa’s plastics offenders. However, according to BMI Research, the non-alcoholic beverage market in 2018 excluding dairy amounted to 5 754.1-million litres while the bottled water market accounted for just 596.9-million litres.

How an industry that bottles less water in a year than the City of Cape Town used a day at the height of the Day Zero campaign manages to make the Top 10 Plastic Offenders list but that which packages 5 668,7-billion litres of fizzy drinks, iced teas and energy drinks doesn’t is beyond comprehension.

If you’re concerned about marine litter, remember to play your parts in reducing it, while on holiday on the beach as well as everyday:

  • Be an educated consumer – dispose of your waste in responsible manner so that it doesn’t end up in the ocean.
  • Reduce your use of unnecessary single-use plastics by choosing reusable items, carry a shopping bag, use a reusable coffee cup and purchase less food wrapped in unnecessary plastics.
  • Sort and recycle your plastics – recycled plastic means less plastic being produced and entering the environment. It seems obvious, but we could do a better job of it.
  • Take on and/or support direct action – participate in a local recycling programmes or beach lean-ups. Support international campaigns that help remove plastic directly from the environment and prevent it becoming marine litter.


What are bottled water bottles made from?

Like most bottles containing other beverages, bottled water bottles in South Africa can be made from glass or PET. PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, is an oil-based product. Water bottle coolers commonly found in offices are made from a different kind of plastic.

Is PET a safe packaging choice?

Yes, the inert PET bottle is a well-accepted package all over the world and is completely safe to drink from. It is also lightweight, unbreakable, and recyclable. It can be identified by a small number ‘1’ on the bottom of a container. This is often displayed inside a triangular mobius or a three-arrow recycling symbol. Alternatively, the letters ‘PET’ will be stamped into the bottle.

However, despite the fact that bottled water is one of the safest, healthiest and most environmentally-friendly packaged beverages in the retailer’s fridge, its detractors persist in repeating disproved data and blatantly incorrect facts. This gives rise to urban legends or myths, and detract from the value the industry adds to consumers’ lives everywhere.

One of these myths is that PET is unsafe – PET is approved as safe for food and beverage contact by the FDA and similar regulatory agencies throughout the world, and has been for over 30 years. PET itself is biologically inert if ingested, is safe during handling, and is not a hazard if inhaled, according to the International Life Sciences Institute Report (ILSI). (Source: ‘Packaging Materials 1. Polyethylene Terephthalate PET for Food Packaging Applications’ (2000).)


Is PET the best packaging choice for the environment?

Studies show that PET currently is the best choice for certain packaging as alternatives to plastics can cost the environment much more.

SANBWA doesn’t dispute the fact that plastic in all its forms is one of the major pollutants of our water bodies and landmasses. Nor do we argue against the fact that ways must be found to curtail that pollution.

We do believe, however, in finding truth and balance in the myriad calls for plastics to be replaced with alternatives or degradable versions by looking at the best option for the economy and the environment.

If we don’t, we risk setting policies, formulating regulations, enacting legislation, investing in technologies and encouraging people to take on certain products that will do more harm to the environment than good, particularly as there are studies proving that plastic alternatives are not as green as they claim to be.


Does PET contain dioxins?

No, there is no dioxin in PET plastic. Dioxin, a chlorine-containing chemical that has no role or presence in the chemistry of PET, is formed by volcanoes (!) and combustion in incinerators at temperatures above 1700 degrees Farenheit.

Does PET contain BPA?

No, Bisphenol A (BPA) is not used to make PET, nor is it used to make any of the component materials used to make PET.

Does PET contain DEHA?

No, DEHA is not present in PET either as a raw material or as a decomposition product. DEHA is also not classified as a human carcinogen and is not considered to pose any significant health risk to humans. It can be found in water – bottled or tap water – and is then called DOA. DOA is one of the organic containments commonly found at trace levels in just about all drinking water. It is also sometimes – wrongly – interpreted as di-ethyl hydroxyl amine which is not found in PET or in the production of PET bottles.

Does PET contain endocrine disruptors?

No, there are no substances known that can migrate from PET that could be responsible for the endocrine disruptors (substances having a hormonal effect) identified in a study commonly referred to as the ‘Goethe Study’.

Is it safe to freeze a PET bottle, or keep it in a hot car?

Yes, of course. The idea that PET bottles ‘leach’ chemicals when frozen or heated in hot cars is not based on any science, and is unsubstantiated by any credible evidence.

Can I reuse a PET bottle?

Yes, like other food or beverage containers, PET bottles can be re-used if you take steps to prevent the growth of bacteria. These bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments; that is, in virtually any beverage container under the right conditions. Wash all your containers, not just PET bottles, with hot soapy water and dry thoroughly between each use. Further, when looking for a bottle for long term use, pay attention to the design of it and its closure. Make certain you can easily get into all ‘nooks and crannies’ in order to be able to clean it properly.

Are PET bottles recyclable?

Most definitely yes, and simply recycling the PET bottle reduces its carbon footprint by some 25%.

Do bottled waters really differ in taste?

At first, you may not be able to discern any taste differences between the different bottled waters you buy. However, as you compare waters from different sources, you will discover their different characters and complexities, and that certain waters go better with certain foods. Below are descriptions of how just a handful of the waters can differ:

  • A sparkling water is still water with carbon dioxide gas added. CO2 added to water has the effect of lowering the pH; in other words, making the water more acidic on the palate. Compare a still and sparkling water from the same producer; the increased acidity of the sparkling water should be very evident.
  • A water with a very low mineral content, such as water from the Western Cape, has a total dissolved solids (TDS) or mineral content of less than about 50 to 80 milligrams per litre (the main minerals are sodium and chloride). The pH of these waters is also often less than 7. As a result, the sparkling version of this type of water is this quite acidic on the palate. In addition, because of the low TDS, it has a low taste profile and its ‘freshness’ therefore gives an impression of drinking water from a high mountain stream.
  • An alkaline water is a water which contains calcium, and often magnesium, as the predominant dissolved minerals. These raise the pH and alkalinity of the water to provide a broad and full-bodied mouthfeel. In the sparkling version, this water is quite complex and will accompany many different dishes.
  • A sulphate water is one that has high levels of sulphate, often accompanied by magnesium. This water has a hint of bitterness, which most people find attractive and will match creamy and sweetish dishes. In South Africa, this is a water that is seldom encountered.

(Source: Water on the Table – A guide to serving and drinking bottled water: Jenna Gough & John



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