Tag Archives: water conservation

Water Footprint and the bottled water debate

As many of you know, I’m not a huge fan of campaigns to ban bottled water for reasons I’ve outlined here and here (the short version is, bottled water is a healthier choice than coke or even OJ, so why no ban those?).

Those who wish to ban bottled water usually fall into two camps. There are those who believe that water should never be sold, under any circumstances. Here, there is simply an ideological difference. Frankly, I’m glad that someone is selling water so that on the rare occasion I’m on the move and want to buy something to drink I have a healthy option such as water and don’t have to buy pop or juice. Moreover, I’m not sure what a ban on selling water would look like. I can imagine that Dasani would start selling “containers” with water included for “free”.

The second camp are those who worry about the carbon impact of shipping and selling water. I completely agree with this groups concerns. I believe all products (water, coke, orange juice) should have to fully account for the environmental impact of their product. I too find water shipped in from Fiji offensive. Indeed, this is why I proposed that cities sell bottled water themselves – to lower the carbon footprint, mandate recycling, and radically under-price the established multinationals.

A reader found the chart below in the economist and sent it to me. It uses data from Waterfootprint.org and adds more complexity to the debate:

water footprint

My main disagreement with an outright ban is that it removes a healthy choice for consumers from store shelves. Now I see that it does something else as well, it removes a choice that has the lowest water footprint. From a water conservation perspective, we shouldn’t ban bottled water, we should ban coffee.

My fear is that this debate is now more about symbols than it is about good public health, water and environmental policy. Again, this is what drove my initial proposal at the bottom of this post. How do we make a healthy choice convenient and portable but balance that against the legitimate environmental and water concerns?