When the news surfaced last month that much of Sydney’s bottled water supply was in fact being filled up from the tap, there was something of an uproar. Most disagreed that customers knew whether they were buying bottled tap or spring water and many claimed this revealed a need for more informative packaging.
But I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy and for me the news was vindication of something I have believed for a very long time – that in Sydney we are very, very lucky to have a clean, safe supply of water at the turn of the tap.
Our water is so clean and pure that bottled water suppliers feel they can wrap it up with some pretty pictures of mountain springs and sell it to us for two or three dollars a 600 ml pop. For the record, Sydney Water sells its product at about two dollars per thousand litres. We should be celebrating the fact that in Sydney we have such a clean, safe supply of water that bottled suppliers can sell to us for more than we would pay for milk.
We all know that water security is an increasingly important political and social issue worldwide. Although vast improvements have been made in recent years, around 783 million people are still without access to safe drinking water, according to the latest report from a joint monitoring program between Unicef and the World Health Organization.
Availability of fresh water from the tap is not only an issue with the world’s poor, as any frequent traveller will attest. I lived in Indonesia for many years of my life and can tell you that drinking tap water there is a particularly bad idea unless you want to spend several days on a toilet. The vast majority of Asia is the same, as is much of the Middle East, South America and Eastern Europe.
And it doesn’t stop there. While the safety of their tap water may be fine, it is well known that much of Western Europe prefers paying extra for bottled water to tasting what’s available from their tap. Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain and Switzerland are tellingly listed in the top 10 consumers of bottled water, according to data from the Earth Policy Institute.
Public water suppliers around Australia are not only doing us a great service, they are doing so with a strong initiative towards sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint. Approximately 15 per cent of Sydney’s drinking water is sourced through Sydney Water’s desalination plant, powered by a purpose-built wind farm. Furthermore, the current aim is that by 2015, 12 per cent of its product will be recycled water.
When you pose these factors, along with the lack of packaging and transport due to Sydney Water’s 21,000 kilometre network of pipelines, it’s clear that the publicly available product is much more environmentally friendly than its bottled counterparts.
Furthermore, all water provided to Sydney residents undergoes stringent testing to ensure it meets health and safety standards. The majority of our water comes from rain captured in dams around Sydney. It then passes into one of nine water filtration plants around Sydney for treatment. Our daily drop is subject to 70 different quality and purity tests and to top it off they go and add fluoride to keep our pearly whites sparkling.
Yet in Australia we have seen over the last five years a noticeable increase in the amount of bottled water being consumed. Research from the Australasian Bottled Water Institute reveals approximately 600 million litres is now guzzled each year. According to the Earth Policy Institute, in 2009 that equated to 60,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions and 76, 600 tonnes of unrecycled bottles, at a cost of half a billion dollars per year.
There is actually a growing belief tap water is perhaps even healthier than its bottled counterpart. Research by a group of Canadian scientists from C-Crest Laboratories in 2010 suggests that the levels of bacteria in still, bottled water are far higher than the levels in tap water, which is mostly flowing. Additionally, there is an increasing research on the ill health effects of plastic packaging, particularly in relation to hormone and development disruption.
So what gives? When bottled suppliers are taking tap water and selling it to us for a couple thousand times the price where is the logic? It’s time for citizens to stand up and refuse bottled water entirely, as residents of rural NSW town Bundadoon did way back in 2009. The University of Canberra took the same plunge last year, despite students on campus buying approximately 140 000 per annum. If they can do it, why can’t the rest of us? It’s this kind of radical shift that is needed to stop the absolute waste of money and resources that is a commercial bottle of water.
We need to recognise the benefits of tap water, and stop allowing laziness to cost our local environment and our wallets. So for me, a toast to Sydney’s tap water, the finest stuff on tap.