7 reasons to give bottled water the boot

November Gin of the Month, Slingsby’s delicious, refreshing taste comes in no small part from the Harrogate spring water that is used to make it.

The spa town of Harrogate is built on the fame of its water sources, springs that carry an array of minerals beneficial to those that drink from them.

Centuries ago, to capitalise on this fame, entrepreneurs in Harrogate and other spa towns around Europe created a luxury product, bottling and shipping the waters to wealthy patrons who believed the waters to improve their well-being and which are the first examples of bottled water. 

The first record of water being bottled for commercial sale dates back to 17th Century England, not in Harrogate, but in the Worcestershire spa town of Malvern Wells, specifically at the Holy Well where one particularly well-known drinks company, Schweppes, began large-scale industrial operations in 1850.

The practice spread throughout the 18th and 19th centuries at the height of spa water popularity when the waters from certain sources - including those of Harrogate - were thought to carry significant health benefits. Today’s household names such as San Pellegrino, Evian and Perrier all got their start in bottles towards the end of the 19th century. 

Despite vastly improved access to clean tap water in the Western world making bottled water increasingly unnecessary, what started as an industry for the well-off so long ago, has since become fairly ubiquitous for us commoners.

There were 2.6 billion litres of bottled water sold in the UK in 2014 - an 86-fold increase in 30 years - and 30 gallons drunk by the average American last year, a 2,000% increase in under 40 years. This year, global sales of bottled water are due to overtake those of fizzy drinks to the tune of £65.5 billion in annual sales (£2 billion in the UK alone).

But why such a bottled water boom in such a relatively short time period? Why do we fork out up to 2,000 times more money for a bottle of water rather than pouring virtually free water from our taps?

Like many “necessities” of modern life, it all comes down to clever marketing that generates consumer fear – in this case, fear that tap water is somehow inferior to bottled water, or even completely unsafe.

In the UK 99.96% of tap water complies with European standards as surveyed by the Drinking Water Inspectorate, but bottled water companies continue their war on tap and their sales continue to increase at 10% per year. They have set up well-funded lobby and spin machines that produce fear-mongering “studies” with scary headlines such as “Cancer drugs found in tap water.”

Like the wealthy visitors of yore to Harrogate’s spas, and like Slingsby Gin today, we don’t all have access to the health benefits of Harrogate spring water. But we do have access to some of the world’s cleanest, great tasting, environmentally friendly, and nearly free water sources straight from a feature of every residential and business building in the country: the tap. It’s time we start drinking from it again. 

Here are just seven of the many good reasons why:

  1. In the US alone, 1/2 billion bottles of water are consumed every week. Putting those bottles end to end would circle the globe more than five times
  2. 80% of plastic bottles end up in landfills where it takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose. 
  3. Many of the plastic bottles that we recycle are actually shipped around the world, creating greenhouse gases to transport them and ending up in landfills in places like India to be “downcycled” into new products.
  4. It takes 3 litres of water to produce 1 litre of bottled water
  5. Bottling water produces more than 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually 
  6. 17 million barrels of oil - enough to keep 1 million cars full of petrol for an entire year - are used each year to produce water bottles
  7. A report by the Earth Policy Institute estimates that another 50 million barrels of oil are used each year to process, pump, transport and refrigerate bottled water

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