‘Consider the source of the facts, weigh up their reliability, and make a distinction between urban myth and professional opinion before pointing fingers this World Water Day’ is the even-keel request from Charlotte Metcalf, CEO of the South African National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA).
Metcalf doesn’t dispute the fact that many people, too many people, in South Africa and in other countries around the world, lack access to safe water. However, she stresses that, if we do not actively set out to ensure our decision-making processes are well-informed, we risk setting policies, formulating regulations, enacting legislation and investing in technologies that will do more harm than good.
For example, during the recent Day Zero period in Cape Town, many laid the blame for the drought at bottlers of bottled water and called for the industry to be banned, or put under State control. Their calls ignored the fact that the bottled water market accounts for just 543.7-million litres a year (which was equivalent to the City of Cape Town’s daily target under Day Zero conditions) versus the 5 668,7-billion litre a year fizzy drink, iced teas and energy drink market1.
- The water sources of SANBWA members nationwide (90% of which are bottled from underground sources, that is, groundwater as opposed to surface water) must be audited to ensure long-term sustainability prior to membership being granted.
- Groundwater is strongly buffered against drought influence. Recharge, or aquifer renewal, is replenished at between 5% and 20% a year depending on the underlying geology and topography.
- No water from any of these groundwater sources would naturally enter the municipal system via rivers and dams. Bottled water originates from sources licenced to private entities by the Department of Water & Sanitation specifically for the use of the water for commercial purposes (bottling water). The volumes extracted are monitored against the licensed limit.
By contrast, many of the systems mooted as alternatives to bottled water could exacerbate drought. These could include:
- Shop-floor systems that use a combination of filters and/or ozone to purify tap water, which is then packaged in shop-branded bottles (bottled water) or re-filled into consumers’ containers (drinking water).
- Small retail outlets using a combination of filters and/or ozone to purify tap water, which is then packaged in shop-branded bottles (bottled water) or re-filled into consumers’ containers (drinking water).
- Counter-top filtration units used by restaurants, caterers and hotels, and linked to taps; the water is bottled in re-usable glass bottles and often closed with a Grolsch-type cap.
- Bottling companies or individuals starting up in response to the drought but do not adhere to South Africa’s legislation governing the bottled water industry could be bottling from unlicensed, unprotected and unsustainable sources. Environmental surveys to ensure source sustainability, the construction of a hygienic bottling facility etc cost far more than people factor into the price.
Therefore, if the bottled product is cheap, chances are the source is not what it is claimed to be, or the production facilities are not what they should be.
“It is a fallacy that bottled water is a waste of South Africa’s scarce water resources, and critically reduces the amount of municipal water available for the country’s citizens. The arguments that refute the accuracy of this claim not only include the relative sizes of the packaged beverage industry in the country, they include the fact that bottled water production is a very low water use business versus other beverages3, and is a very low water use business versus other food industries4,” says Metcalf.
“This year’s theme for World Water Day (March 22), ‘Leaving no one behind’, adapts the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development2 that, as sustainable development progresses, everyone must benefit. SANBWA whole-heartedly supports this agenda, and does not accept bottlers whose sources are not sustainable and well-managed as members” she says.
1. BMi Research – 2017
2. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – Sustainable Development Goal 6:
- 6.1: By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
- 6.2: By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
- 6.3: By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
- 6.4: By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity
- 6.5: By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
- 6.6: By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
- 6.A: By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies
- 6.B: Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.
3. Bier http://www.bieroundtable.com/bier-presents-carbon-footprint.html, which compares the impact of bottled water when compared to tap water and other beverages globally, it can be seen that – compared to other beverages – water has a very low water use figure. (http://beveragelcafootprint.com/?page_id=102/)