Message on a bottle goes down drain as consumers spurn free tap water
SALES of bottled water soared last month as consumers rejected appeals by a government minister to turn their backs on the industry and use tap water.
Figures for bottled water sales for the week ending 10 May show that they were 23.2 per cent higher than the same period the previous year.
The report, compiled using data from market analysts AC Nielsen, says that the quantity of water sales is 5.5 per cent up year on year – an additional 5.6 million litres.
The surge in sales comes despite a stinging attack on the bottled water industry by Environment Minister Phil Woolas, who described it as bordering on the morally unacceptable for Britons to drink millions of litres of bottled water every day when safe tap water is available everywhere.
He raised concerns about water being imported to Britain when other countries faced problems with supplies.
Reacting to the new figures yesterday, Mr Woolas insisted: "I'm not going to tell people what to drink but we've got some of the best-quality water in the world and we should be more proud of it.
"To me, it's absurd to use up the Earth's resources, including oil and lots more water, to manufacture a bottle and then fill it with water from elsewhere, transporting it hundreds or even thousands of miles, only for the bottle to end up being sent to landfill or using energy to be recycled – when the alternative is turning on the tap."
Mr Woolas's campaign has been supported by Tim Lang, the government's natural resources commissioner, who has said that the only way to combat the problem would be to make "people think that it's unfashionable just as we have with smoking. We need a similar campaign to convince people that this is wrong." However, in the UK alone, 2 billion a year is spent on bottled water. Despite this, the industry says that sales slumped in April in the wake of the minister's criticism aired on a BBC Panorama programme, which showed that in terms of production, a bottle of Evian or Volvic generates up to 600 times more than a litre of tap water.
But the Bottled Water Information Office says that the dip was purely down to the cold weather.
Richard Laming, communications director of the Bottled Water Information Office, said: "Bottled water remains as popular as it has ever been, with more than 30 million people in the UK making an informed choice to drink it.
"Bottled water producers have worked hard to make sure everyone is in possession of all the facts and people like drinking water that is pure and natural."
Jo Jacobius of British Bottled Water Producers, which represents small UK bottling companies, said that consumers were making balanced judgments in choosing bottled water. "Certainly, tap water is perfectly good, but inevitably it does contain chlorine and other chemicals used in the cleaning process that people want to avoid, and there is a body of scientific opinion that agrees with this view.
"I think there is an increasing preponderance of people wanting natural and locally produced products. British water is what people are looking for because in terms of environmental impact it has travelled the shortest distance to the shops."
Ms Jacobius added that in comparison with other bottled drinks, water's impact on the environment was small.
"It borders on being morally unacceptable to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on bottled water when we have pure drinking water, and at the same time one of the crises that is facing the world is the supply of water." Phil Woolas, environment minister
"Huge amounts are imported from other countries – some now ludicrously from the Far East. This is an ecological nightmare and it doesn't make economic sense either. " Peter Ainsworth, shadow Tory environment secretary
"We've now tracked plastics particles smaller than a human hair, to 20 microns, and we've found nine different polymers, consistent with water bottles, all over the UK and further afield as well." Richard Thompson, a marine scientist from Plymouth University
"We think it's unfortunate it's turned into this either-or battle. We do feel like we're being unfairly targeted." Joseph Doss of the International Bottled Water Association
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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