Bottled water alternative for drinking is worse than problem

Society is paying for pollution, has become an economic burden

By K Damodaran
Published: Thursday 27 October 2022
Those who cannot have RO at home oftern purchase 20 litres of water containers from private companies. Photo: iStock

Use of bottled water or reverse osmosis (RO) method to purify water to make it fit for consumption is putting additional stress on the already stretched resources in India. 

The pressure on environmental resources has increased due to developmental activities like population explosion, industries and automobiles. Misuse of resources over their renewable capacity has led to various environmental threats.

Read more: India lags in drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities: Study

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a statutory organisation under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, has identified 351 polluted river stretches. More than 30 per cent of the groundwater resources are overexploited in India. 

CPCB continuously warrants the issue of water pollution, but its evidence has not brought about any changes. Public policy think tank NITI Aayog affirms that the population may face huge water scarcity soon.

But India has exported 3,850,431 litres of water between 2015 to 2021, which shows the dual standard of the government in managing water resources.  

Studies have found that India stands first in groundwater extraction but is ranked 120 among 122 countries in water quality. The country has a treatment capacity of only 43 per cent, according to CPCB’s 2021 report and the working condition of the existing treatment is yet to be verified.

Studies reveal that 37.7 million people in India are affected by waterborne diseases, which cost Rs 4,500 crore. As a result, middle- and high-income households consume portable drinking water and install RO purifiers for safe drinking water. 

Bottled water market

RO technology claims it removes water contamination through ions, organics, bacteria and pyrogens through its membrane and provides safe drinking water

Read more: These 5 states suffer from groundwater exploitation but packaged drinking water plants don't feel a pinch

Some households own RO and others depend on private companies. RO prices for household purposes range between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000. Besides, the maintenance cost is more than Rs 3,000 annually. 

Those who cannot have RO at home often purchase 20 litres of water containers from private companies and the price ranges from Rs 30 to Rs 40, based on the locality. Like LPG gas, water containers are delivered to the doorsteps. 

Society is paying for the pollution and this social cost is an economic burden on people.

In India, consumption of bottled water has increased tremendously, from 15,051 million litres to 23,105 million litres in 2013 and 2021, respectively, according to a consumer data researcher Statista, 2021. 

At present, water consumption has become a part of the household budget. The households regularly consume 20 litres of bottled water containers for drinking and cooking.

Most people carry water bottles while travelling and the number of water brands has also increased. People believe bottled/RO water consumption is safe and healthy as an alternative to polluted water. 

Health and bottled water

RO or bottled water is familiarly termed ‘mineral water’. But studies found that the RO membrane removes almost all the mineral contents from the water. 

In addition, consumption of this mineral-free water swipes outs all the existing minerals and vitamins from the body. Minerals and vitamins from food, vegetables, fruits and so on are disposed of from the body through urination. 

Read more: Safe drinking water in America: Not everyone has it

Besides, RO water for cooking removes all essential elements from food. A considerable number of recent studies have found that consumption of RO water has led to neurological, cardio, gastric and several other problems. Thus, it is evident that consuming the so-called ‘mineral water’ is not suitable for health. 

Industrial effluents and other developmental activities have polluted the available ground and surface water. 

The National Green Tribunal reports that the process involved in RO wastes 200 per cent of the water. Two litres of water are wasted to get one litre of water from RO. Lack of water management has led to various environmental, health, and economic issues. 

The Nobel Laureates Robert Solow and John Hartwick view that human capital can be a substitute for natural capital and term it ‘Weak Sustainability.’ Water, the natural capital is contaminated, and human capital [RO technology] can be a substitute. 

Based on the various research evidence, the RO process cannot be an alternative and can only aggravate the problem. Thus, effective water management and regulation with community participation alone can solve the issue.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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