A minority of consumers buying bottled water can do so as an alternative to tap water. However, according to a study conducted in May of 2006 by Probe Research Inc., the majority (70%) of adults who purchase bottled water do so as an alternative to buying other packaged beverages, not as an alternative to tap water. Bottled water competes with a variety of packaged beverages, including carbonated soft drinks, milk, juices, soya beverages, energy drinks, and sport drinks and to a lesser extent with hot drinks such as coffee, tea and hot chocolate, and low alcohol wine coolers and ciders.
CBWA members bottle spring (ground) water, which represents more than 85% of bottled water sold. As a regulated food product, natural spring water cannot be modified from its natural state (cannot modify compounds, mineral content or add chemicals). More than 95% of bottled water sold in Canada is from a natural source (spring or mineral water). Less than 5% of bottled water sold in Canada originated from a municipal source.
According to the provincial governments responsible for recycling programs, almost 70% of plastic beverage containers, including bottled water, were recycled across Canada last year. Bottled water packaging accounts for only 40% of all plastic beverage container packaging. Most containers hold soft drinks and juices. Plastic beverage containers, including bottled water packaging, account for 1/5 of 1 percent of the waste in the waste stream.
Polycarbonate and PET plastic bottles are 100% recyclable. The larger bottles, for use with water coolers, are typically reusable 40 to 60 times before the need to be recycled. For more than 40 years, the bottled water industry has had in place its own industry run recycling program to ensure all large polycarbonate water bottles are properly recycled, ensuring they do not go to Canadian landfills. Once recycled, these plastics are used to make new bottles and everything from playground equipment, cell phones, clothing, to automobile parts.
In the bottled water sector, the incentive is to reduce the amount of plastic used in bottles, use biodegradable materials, or use recycled plastics. Over the last decade, the industry trend has been to develop and use bottles that are thinner and lighter, using less plastic – the weight of the typical water bottle is about half that of other packaged beverages. In recent years, more bottlers are using recycled plastic by blending recycled PET (rPET) with virgin PET. The use of rPET in water bottles can be as much as 100% recycled content. All packaging used by the bottled water industry must be approved by Health Canada under Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations.
The bottled water industry is certainly doing its part to reduce its impact on the environment. The CBWA and its partners have been working with local governments to assist in public spaces recycling programs and to increase ALL consumer packaging recycling in order to decrease landfill, as well as litter.
The fact is that water is the healthiest beverage option available. If bottled water were the only beverage to be sold in plastic bottles, that choice would be obvious. However, at a time when health providers and policy makers are struggling with sharply increased rates of diabetes and obesity, to ban the sale of calorie-free, sugar-free, and fat-free water, while continuing to allow the sale of other beverages sold in plastic bottles that cannot make these statements, makes no sense.
Bottled water is regulated as a food by Health Canada. Water bottling companies are inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Permits to take water must be applied for and obtained from provincial environment ministries. Bottling companies continuously test their product to ensure its quality, and CBWA members must adhere to the Association’s stringent Bottled Water Model Code, Bottled Water Food Safety Practices, Certified Plant Operator Program and Third Party Plant Audit requirements, as a condition of membership.
In fact, permit data from provincial environment ministries shows, and confirmed by Environment Canada, that the bottled water industry in fact takes less than 0.02% of fresh water available for taking in Canada.
Comparisons have been made between the costs of bottled water to the consumer versus the cost of tap water. Obviously, tap water is the cheaper of the two (approximately 1% of tap is used for human consumption). Independent market research firm A.C. Neilson has identified bottled water as costing 34 cents per litre (2010), or about 17 cents per 500 ml bottle, while municipalities correctly point out that tap water is available for a fraction of a penny per litre. Why, they ask, does anyone buy bottled water?
As stated above, consumers do not view bottled water as an alternative to tap water but rather as an alternative to other packaged beverages. Like other beverages, bottled water will always be less costly when purchased in large 18L bottles or by the case of 24 smaller bottles as opposed to purchasing one individual serving from a convenience store or vending machine.
While the decision to ban bottled water from municipal facilities, schools, community centres and skating rinks is largely symbolic, there are some concrete and positive steps that policy makers can take in order to make a real difference. Firstly, increase the number of recycling receptacles and containers in public spaces. History has demonstrated that the public will participate in recycling programs when they are available. A few excellent examples of successful public space recycling are in the cities of Sarnia, Niagara Falls and Halifax, and in the Province of Quebec where results have shown recycling rates of +75% for out of home recycling. Implementing public space recycling will yield similar positive results, allow your citizens choice of which beverages or municipal tap water to consume, and increase recycling rates, not just for plastic water bottles, but for all consumer packaging used outside of the home.
Secondly, governments along with the beverage industry should conducti enhanced public education campaigns about litter, whether that litter consists of a plastic bottle or a paper cup, so that littering becomes socially unacceptable.
CBWA and its members encourage the placement of public water fountains for those who choose to drink tap water when away from home. What we have issue with is, why would a person not be given the same freedom to consume bottled water? When someone prefers to drink bottled water, why would this healthy beverage choice be taken away?
The CBWA encourages municipalities to not only maintain their current high standards for tap water, but also to instill greater public confidence in their water infrastructure. All Canadians should feel confident about their public services.