Bottled water backlash flows on

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bottled water, International bottled water association

The bottled water industry, which has enjoyed strong sales growth in recent years as a beverage perceived to offer improved health benefits, is coming under increasing criticism in North America over its alleged environmental impacts.

In the space of the last seven days, a US-based organic retail chain and the Canadian city of Windsor have announced attempts to crackdown on supplying the product, siding with growing international concern from some quarters over the packaging waste it creates.

North American pressures

My Organic Market (MOM), a Washington-based supplier of organic food and beverages, says that it will cease sales of bottled water products not sourced or bottled within the US at its stores.

The retailer claims that in line with its sustainability initiatives it has opted to cut down on non-domestic bottled water products due to energy, oil and water use required to ship and dispose of foreign produced brands.

"We are hoping that by discontinuing imported waters, customers who aren't already drinking tap water will consider making the switch,”​ said MOM grocery vice president Lisa de Lima.

Similarly, news reports in Canada suggest that the authorities in Windsor are looking to follow in the footsteps of other cities in the nation by refusing to supply bottled water at municipal facilities.

International focus

Although not alone, US authorities have been particularly committed in their focus to try and play up tap water over the bottled variety. From 1 January this year, the government of the city of Chicago implemented a five cent tax on bottled water sales to discourage consumers from the product.

In 2007, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom also announced a ban on the city's departments using money to buy bottled water.

Politicians and ecological groups around the world from Britain to Australia have vowed to making similar commitments citing the industry's potential impact on the environment and water resources as part of their concerns.

Industry fight back

The bottled water industry has been quick to respond to the growing levels of criticism being faced on the industry though.

Stephen Kay, communications director for the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) told BeverageDaily.com earlier this year that growing criticism from environmental groups and politicians alike had 'distorted' the real impact of growing bottled water consumption.

"Consumers are not uniformly replacing tap water with bottled water; rather they are choosing bottled water over the other beverages available at the store and home,"​ he said.

Jill Ardagh, director general of trade association, the Bottled Water Information Office, claimed that bottled water plays a vital role for many consumers.

“Over 30 million people in the UK enjoy drinking bottled water, understanding that it is a convenient and refreshing way to stay hydrated throughout the day.”

Despite the recent criticisms, current estimates on potential growth of bottled waters remain buoyant, according to findings by consumer 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, Zenith said.

Related topics: Markets, Soft Drinks & Water

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