Over the last decade, sales of bottled water have increased dramatically to become what is estimated to be a US $100 billion industry
From 1999 to 2004, global bottled water consumption grew from approximately 118 billion litres to more than 182 billion litres.
In several cities of the developing world, demand for bottled water often stems from the fact that municipal water supplies – if available at all – fail to meet basic criteria for drinking water quality. But companies manufacturing bottled water are also generating large revenues in developed countries.
Bottled water sales in the United States in 2004 – higher than in any other country – totalled over US $9 billion for 30.8 billion litres of water, that is, enough water to meet the annual physiological needs of a population the size of Cambodia.
Countries in the top ten list of bottled water consumers include United States, Mexico, China, Brazil, Italy, Germany, France, Indonesia, Spain and India.
When asked why they are willing to pay so much for bottled water when they have access to tap water, consumers often list concerns about the safety of tap water as a major reason for preferring bottled water. While most companies market this product on the basis that it is safer than tap water, various studies indicate that bottled water regulations are in fact inadequate to ensure purity or safety. The World Health Organization warns that bottled water can actually have a greater bacterial count than municipal water.
In the United States, the standards by which bottled water is graded (regulated by the Food and Drug Administration) are actually lower than those for tap water (regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency).
Most water bottles are meant to be recyclable. However, only 20% of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the substance used for water bottles, is actually recycled. In addition, the PET manufacturing process releases harmful chemical emissions that compromise air quality.
In Greece, it is estimated that 1 billion plastic drinking water bottles are thrown away each year.
In China, where roughly 70% of rivers and lakes are polluted, the largest demand for bottled water comes from city dwellers, for in rural areas people are too poor to pay for this alternative.
Source: UNESCO Water Portal, September 2006