UK politician makes 'moral' bottled water stance

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bottled water, International bottled water association

The UK environment minister has this week kicked off a war of words
with the bottled water industry, claiming that it is acting in a
"morally unacceptable" manner.

Phil Woolas, speaking on the BBC Panorama program aired Monday night, claimed that it was wrong to ship bottled water to the UK, when other countries had inadequate or no water supplies at all. The attacks, which have been labelled as "misinformed"​ by industry players, add to growing criticism from some groups of the social and environmental impacts related to producing bottled water, amidst rapid consumption growth. The latest edition of Panorama, which focused specifically on the bottled watered industry, comes ahead of soon to be launched proposals by environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE). The group said it was working in conjunction with supplier Thames Water to campaign for greater availability of tap water in restaurants and bars. Woolas stated on the show that the growing trade in bottling and shipping water was out of sync with current supply problems being faced in some countries. "It borders on being morally unacceptable to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on bottled water when we have pure drinking water, and at the same time one of the crises that is facing the world is the supply of water,​" he stated. "There are many countries in the world who unfortunately haven't got pure tap water [and] we should be concentrating our efforts on putting that right."​ However, Jill Ardagh, director general of trade association, the Bottled Water Information Office, refuted these claims, which she said unjustly distorted the true social impact of the bottled water industry. In a statement, she claimed that bottled water consumption not only offered a healthy alternative to other soft drinks, but a naturally safe and sustainably sourced product "[Woolas] did not seem to think that bottled water was 'morally unacceptable' when the Government was desperate for bottled water supplies during last year's floods,"​ she stated. "The industry immediately responded with millions of bottles of water."​ While this dispute is likely to continue for some time, one fact not in contention is that bottling water is now very big business for drinks groups. Bottled water sales are set to outgrow the once dominant carbonated beverage segment within two years, according to recent research by analyst Zenith International. If the current market growth continues, global consumption of the product is expected to grow to 251bn litres by 2011 from 187bn litres in 2006, Zenith added. This potential is coming in part from growing innovation within the bottled water market, particular for added-value waters that claim to offer nutritional or cosmetic benefits. In Western Europe alone, functional water consumption rose to an estimated 273m litres in 2006 from just 30m litres in 2000, according to Zenith. Beyond the perceived social impacts of this growth, environmentalists have also expressed concern over how the bottled water market is affecting the environment through packaging waste. San Franciso's mayor Gavin Newsom last year announced a ban on the cities departments using money to buy bottled water, while New York officials are urging consumption of tap water to cut down on the cities high levels of packaging waste. Over similar concerns, an Australian coalition of environmental and community groups has announced it has raised funds to influence drinking habits towards turning to the tap. The International Bottled Water Association told at the time that it believed consumers were not uniformly replacing tap water with bottled water; but were choosing bottled water over the other beverages available at the store and home.

Related topics: Markets, Soft Drinks & Water

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