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In Depth

Consumers

Bottled water

Quenching a planet's thirst

Last Updated August 20, 2008

Bottled water � it's one of the most popular beverages on the planet, second in popularity in North America only to carbonated soft drinks, and consumption of it continues to grow rapidly in most countries.

Global bottled water market
Leading countries' consumption and compound annual growth rates (CAGR), 2002-2007
Millions of LitresCompound Annual
Growth Rates
2007 RankCountries200220072002/07
1United States21,938.733,398.78.8%
2Mexico14,757.822,277.98.6%
3China8,094.718,123.817.5%
4Brazil9,621.813,707.47.3%
5Italy9,683.811,738.23.9%
6Germany8,674.310,384.13.7%
7Indonesia6,141.89,087.38.2%
8France8,424.88,642.90.5%
9Thailand4,833.95,803.43.7%
10Spain4,509.94,860.51.5%
Top 10 Subtotal96,682.1138,024.47.4%
All others34,273.950,752.28.2%
World Total130,956188,776.67.6%
Source: Beverage Marketing Corporation

Between 2002 and 2007, world consumption of bottled water jumped by 7.6 per cent per year, from 130.95 billion litres to 188.8 billion litres. The United States consumes the most bottled water on the planet (33.4 billion litres) while residents of the United Arab Emirates consume the most bottled water per capita (259.7 litres per person per year).

In Canada, bottled water consumption was estimated at 24.4 litres per person in 1999. By 2005, that had increased to about 60 litres per person, with sales worth $652.7 million.

Statistics Canada reported on June 25, 2008, that three in 10 Canadian households consumed bottled water in 2006. People in high-income homes were more likely to drink bottled water than people in low-income homes. However, the likelihood of bottled water consumption in a household falls to 25 per cent among university-educated people.

Still, that means a lot of discarded plastic bottles. And that can be hard on the environment.

Some groups are rethinking their love affair with bottled water.

Here's a recap of who is considering banning the bottle:

  • In April 2007, Charlottetown voted to ban bottled water at council meetings.
  • In May 2008, Nelson, B.C., outlawed the sale of bottled water at city-owned buildings.
  • School boards in Toronto and Ottawa are looking at banning bottled water from school vending machines in 2009.
  • Waterloo Region banned the sale of plastic bottles in its schools starting in 2009.
  • In June 2008, St. John's city council voted to ban bottled water at city hall.
  • In Aug. 2008, London, Ont., voted to ban bottled water in city offices, parks and other recreational facilities.

In response to the London ban, the trade association Refreshments Canada said the decision denied consumers the freedom of choice.

"The city had an opportunity to expand recycling outside the home � but instead, it ignored the facts and decided to target a healthy consumer choice," said Justin Sherwood, president of Refreshments Canada. "This is a move that will cost taxpayers more and do less for the environment."

Toronto, where consumers toss an estimated 100 million plastic bottles a year, is also considering a ban.

"We capture about 65 per cent of [the tossed bottles] in our recycling," said city councilor Shelley Carroll. "The other 35 per cent is being lost in litter containers or in the garbage stream, and we can't pull them all out so a lot of bottles still end up in the landfill."

In February 2007, David Suzuki told CBC News that he insists on tap water whenever he appears at a speaking engagement.

While the plastic used to make the bottle may be an environmental threat, science has yet to prove that what's inside the bottle is any better for you than what comes out of your own tap.

Industry observers say advertising by bottled water companies gives consumers the impression their product is safer and healthier than tap water. Municipal water, however, is more stringently tested.

In Canada, local water supplies are inspected every day, whereas bottled-water plants are inspected at three-year intervals.

Critics of the bottled water industry note that most brands of bottled water do not include fluoride in their product.

The fluoride debate

In December 2005, the Canadian Dental Association said that between 2000 and 2005 it had received anecdotal reports of a correlation between increased cavity decay and consumption of bottled water. The International Council of Bottled Water Associations insists there is no correlation and further says that too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis — discolouration of the teeth.

Oral hygiene experts say fluoridated water can reduce decay by as much as 15 per cent, and the Center For Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., describes the fluoridation of water as one of the 10 most successful public health initiatives. Most tap water is fluoridated, whereas bottle water is often not; the more people consume bottled water the less fluoride they ingest.

Some believe that fluoride is only important for children, but dental professionals say adults still need fluoride protection. Although some bottlers are now adding it to their product, the levels are inadequate.

Premium price for tap water

Two of the largest bottled water sellers, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, use municipal water.

The unprecedented demand for their products increases demand for public water, which they purchase at a substantially lower price than households are asked to pay.

Experts speculate that if the trend for bottled water consumption continues, it could lead to the privatization of municipal water supplies.

What makes one brand different from another?

Bottled water can come from any source. Here's a quick reference guide.

Mineral and spring water
This must come from an underground source (not a public water supply) and can't be altered with chemicals. Mineral water has a higher amount of dissolved mineral salts.
Bottled water
This can be water from any source, distilled, carbonated or treated in any manner. Dasani (owned by Coca-Cola) is filtered municipal tap water, bottled in Brampton, Ont., and Calgary. (Pepsi owns Aquafina, which is also sourced from municipalities.)
Artesian water/Artesian well water
Bottled water from a well that taps a confined aquifer (a water-bearing underground layer of rock or sand).
Sparkling water
Water that has been carbonated. Soda water, seltzer water and tonic water are not considered bottled waters.
Glacial water
Water from a source directly from a glacier.
Natural water
Water(such as spring, mineral, artesian or well water) obtained from an approved underground source and not from a municipal or public water-supply system. This water is untreated other than by filtration.
Purified water
Water produced by distillation, de-ionization or reverse osmosis, which contains not more than 10 mg/L of total dissolved solids.
Global bottled water market
Per capita consumption by leading countries, 2002-2007
2007Litres Per Capita
RankCountries20022007
1United Arab Emirates133.2259.7
2Mexico142.7204.8
3Italy167.3201.7
4Belgium-Luxembourg123.8149.5
5France140.4135.5
6Germany105.2126.1
7Spain112.4119.9
8Lebanon94.3110.9
9United States76.1110.9
10Hungary51.1107.9
11Switzerland91.6106.7
12Slovenia71.295.4
13Austria79.194.6
14Czech Republic79.993.1
15Croatia56.492.0
16Saudi Arabia90.191.2
17Cyprus81.090.8
18Thailand76.189.3
19Israel46.987.8
20Portugal75.384.8
Source: Beverage Marketing Corporation

What's in the water?

How to store bottled water

You can store large quantities of bottled water in a basement or cold storage area in well-sealed containers. Make sure the area is cool and dark. Bottled water has a two-year shelf-life. Health Canada recommends replacement after a year.

  • Naturally-carbonated natural mineral water after treatment, replacement of gas and packaging, has the same content of gas from the source.
  • Non-carbonated natural mineral water does not contain carbon dioxide in excess of the amount necessary to keep hydrogen carbonate salts dissolved.
  • De-carbonated natural mineral water has less carbon dioxide than when it came out of the ground.
  • Carbonated natural mineral water has been made bubbly by adding carbon dioxide.
  • Demineralized water has the dissolved solids (minerals) removed.
  • Re-mineralized water, after filtration that removes all the solids, has some minerals put back in.
  • Ozonized water has ozone added to kill bacteria.
  • Super-oxygenated water contains extra oxygen, most of which escapes when you twist the cap.

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