Run-up to UN Water Conference: Bottled water masking world’s failure to supply ‘safe water’ for all, says report

Expansion of bottled water industry works against achieving the Sustaianable Development Goal to supply safe drinking water to all by affecting investments

By Zumbish
Published: Thursday 16 March 2023
Run-up to UN Water Conference: Bottled water masking world’s failure to supply ‘safe water’ for all, says report
Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

The rapidly growing bottled water industry is helping mask a crippling world problem: the failure of public systems to supply reliable drinking water for all, a review report published in the run-up to the United Nations 2023 Water Conference next week, said.

Supply of reliable drinking water is a key Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target. But, the expansion of the bottled water industry works against achieving it or at slowing progress towards it.

This, it does by adversely affecting investments and the role of the state in long-term public water supply infrastructure development and improvement, according to Global Bottled Water Industry: A Review of Impacts and Trends.

The report cited an example. It compared estimates of global bottled water sales with the estimated needs to finance the progress to SDG 6.1.

Half of what the world pays for bottled water annually at present would pay to provide clean and long-term public water supply for hundreds of millions of people without it, according to the document.

“The rise in bottled water consumption reflects decades of limited progress in and many failures of public water supply systems,” Kaveh Madani, director, UN University Institute of Water Environment and Health (UNU INWEH), was quoted as saying in the report.

UNU INWEH, which is part of the UN University, and McMaster University, Canada, compiled the report. The document is based on an analysis of literature and data from 109 countries.

Dollars, litres and regions

The rise of the bottled water industry has been nothing short of meteoric.

In just 50 years, it has developed into “a major and essentially standalone economic sector,” experiencing 73 per cent growth from 2010 to 2020. Sales are expected to almost double to half a trillion dollars by 2030.

The report has mapped and ranked the top 50 countries in the world by total and per capita bottled water sales both in dollars and litres. The current global bottled water sales are estimated at almost $270 billion and 350 billion litres.

 Top 50 countries in 2022 by their bottled water sales

Global Bottled Water Industry: A Review of Impacts and Trends

The Asia-Pacific region constitutes about half of the global bottled water market, and the Global South countries together make up about 60 per cent.

The United States, China and Indonesia combined comprise half of the global market, according to the report:

Germany is the biggest market in Europe, Mexico in the Latin America and the Caribbean region and South Africa in Africa. Singapore and Australia stand out as the leaders in both annual revenue and volume of bottled water sold per capita, with the USA and China per capita indicators being much smaller.

Bottled water market drivers differ significantly between the Global North and the Global South.

“In Global North, bottled water is often perceived as a healthier and tastier product against tap water. It is more of a luxury good than a necessity. In the Global South, bottled water sales are stimulated primarily by the lack or absence of a reliable public water supply,” the report said.

Resource depletion

The report noted that like many other industries, the bottled water industry was a high consumer of water. The main source of water that is bottled across the globe is groundwater, it added.

It gave several instances of how the industry was bleeding groundwater sources dry across the world.

In the United States, Nestlé Waters extracted three million litres a day from Florida Springs. In France, Danone extracted up to 10 million litres a day from Evian-les-Bains in the French Alps.

Groundwater is a precious resource with over two billion worldwide relying on it as their primary water source.

The report noted that in certain areas, the amount of groundwater extracted exceeded the amount that was recharged naturally.

“Fifteen percent of all extracted groundwater is non-renewable,” it said, adding that global groundwater depletion varied between 56 to 362 cubic kilometres per year over the last three decades.

It urged strengthening the regulations of the overall industry, given that global sales of bottled water were expected to rapidly grow by 2030.

The UN conference in New York City from March 22-24 is likely to raise awareness on global water crisis and decide on concerted action to achieve the internationally agreed water-related goals and targets.

Contributors to the report included Zeineb Bouhlel, Jimmy Kopke, and Vladimir Smakhtin of UNU INWEH and Mariam Mina of McMaster University.

Read more:

Run-up to UN Water Conference: A third of people surveyed by global study suffer from freshwater shortage

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