The Definitive Bottled Water Site

Bottled Water Industry
 
Lance Klessig klessill@uwec.edu
 
Part of Water is Life, a class website on water privatization and commodification, produced by students of Geography 378 (International Environmental Problems & Policy) at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, USA, Spring 2004.

     

    This webpage will focus on the bottled water industry around the world, and how public attitudes toward bottled water have changed over the course of the past decade. Areas of interest include global distribution, bottled water industries, price margins, targeted areas of water bottling industries, global public opinion and acceptance of bottled water, and possible health benefits/drawbacks of bottled water.

 
In general, the global bottled water industry has become very profitable in the past ten years. Huge multinational companies currently make billions of dollars on water they simply extract from the ground, slap a label on and sell at competitive prices. Examples of these companies includ: Aquafina (Pepsi), Dasani (Coke), Perrier (Nestle), Evian, and Fiji Water among hundreds of others. A short list of bottled water companies within the U.S. can be found at Bottled Water Web and a list of Canadian bottled water producers can be located at Canadian Bottled Water Association.

    Bottled Water Consumption

    Eva

    Bottled water consumption has grown exponentially over the past ten to fifteen years. This growth has taken place globally, but particularly in Europe and North America. The bottled water industry has literally created its own water culture. For example, when one enters a gas station, grocery store or a restaurant in any country of the world, one is bound to find at least a few different brands of bottled water. Bottled water is somewhat less likely to be found in developing countries, where public water is least safe to drink. Many government programs regularly disperse bottled water for various reasons. Distributing small bottles of water is much easier than distributing large bulk storages of water. Also contamination from large water storage containers is much more likely than from single 12-20 ounce bottles of water.

    Many countries have become very oriented toward bottled water. According to a 2001 World Wildlife Fund survey, individuals around the globe consume some 89 billion liters of bottle water annually, worth roughly $22 million. Citizens of the U.S. alone consume about 13 billions liters of bottled water. A 2000 report conducted by Yankelovich Partneers of the Rockefeller University discovered that 2.3 eight-ounce servings of the total 6.1 servings of water that are consumed daily are bottled water in the U.S. Bottled Water Consumption

    So which areas of our world are consuming the largest amounts of bottle water? Splash's website provides a wealth of knowledge regarding who, what type, regulations and an overview of the market. Below is a graph of 1999 Bottled Water Consumption in liters per person, courtesy of Splash's Freshwater Newsletter. Surprisingly, Western Europe consumes almost 50% of the world's bottled water. Many claim that this is due to European culture, since the continent has had very polluted waters due to agriculture and industry dating back to the Industrial Revolution.

    Splash

    Splash also states that roughly 59% of bottled water that is consumed is purified, while the 41% is spring or mineral water. Most bottled water (about 75%) originates from protected sources such as underground aquifers and springs. Increases in bottled water consumption is also a major issue. Below is a graph that explores the increase from 1999-2001 for eight different regions globally.

    Graph compliments of World Wildlife Survey found at Splash

     

    Health Benefits and Drawbacks

    Although there are relatively few regulations on what bottled water can contain, people have very differing opinions on possible benefits and drawbacks of bottled water. Currently there are multiple studies showing numerous bottled water brands containing harmful substances. According to a four-year scientific study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, over a third of the tested brands contain contaminants such as arsenic and carcinogenic compounds. This study of 103 different brands encompassing over 1,000 bottles showed that one-third of the water in these bottles exceeded state or industry safety standards.

    An earlier study by Ohio State University (found at Common Dreams News Center) found that 39 out of 57 bottled water samples did indeed have "purer" water than tap water. However, 15 samples had significantly high bacteria samples. The scientists agreed that all of the water was safe to drink, but the study clearly showed how claims of bottled water purity can be misleading. While one can evaluate the chemical contents of water, most consumers choose bottled water for its taste. A large majority of bottled water consumers drink bottled water because they believe it has better health benefits, and many consume such large quantities due to its taste. Globally most people associate bottled water with tasting better. However, when Good Morning America conducted a taste test of its studio audience, New York City tap water was chosen as the heavy favorite over the oxygenated water 02, Poland Spring and Evian (Environmental News Network).

    Some global agencies such as the World Health Organization have neutral feelings regarding possible health benefits or drawbacks from the consumption of bottled water. On WHO's website they claim that many European consumers believe that natural mineral waters have medicinal or other health properties. WHO respects these beliefs, but has been unable to find convincing evidence to support the mineral water consumption benefits. There have been few quality studies regarding health effects of drinking bottled water. Many researchers believe that the benefits of bottled water are based mainly on a common ideology.

    Australian Bottled Water Institute

    Public Opinion and Acceptance

    Globally almost every country is accepting the "bottled water culture." Millions of people get parts or all of their daily water values from bottled water. A study done by Green Nature suggests that over half of Americans drink bottled water, spending 240-10,000 times more than tap water. At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where I attend college, the "bottled water culture" definitely is in full swing. One cannot glance at a random student or faculty member book bag without finding a bottle of water stowed inside. Drinking bottled water is essentially a part of our culture today. We can look at any local, national or international sporting event and see the prevalence of bottled water. Apparently regular tap water in a bottle or cup has slowly begun to be looked down upon. Although many individuals will carry a reusable water bottle such as a Nalgene, most bottled water containers are thrown away after just one use. This may be due to the convenience of bottled water, as it is almost more readily available than tap water.

    David Ozonoff, of the Environmental Health Department at Boston University, claims that the bottled water versus tap water debate boils down to a mentality issue. He states, " I think the problem today is that turning on your tap is an act of faith, and I'm not sure that that act of faith is particularly well-placed." If you drink from the tap, there are several recent studies you should know about because they may change the way you think about your water.

    I grew up in Central Wisconsin surrounded by very high quality groundwater. With small creeks and a Class A trout stream running through my famly's property, I always felt safe drinking the surface water. I have been raised on high-quality tap water from underground aquifers and test after test has proven our water is safe for consumption. I do understand why more urban residents are more prone to drinking bottled water, but I do agree with Mr. Ozonoff that it is largely a mentality issue. After traveling extensively in over 15 countries in Asia and Europe, drinking water from a tap or bottle is essentially the same thing. I believe many people just view "regular" tap water as not having the best taste or question its source. In reality however, all water flows regularly threw the hydrologic cycle in only a short number of years, so source has very little bearing after the purification processes. See the related link How Groundwater Works for more information.

    Deep Rock Water

    Company Price Margins

    The bottled water culture's recent explosion in the last decade is due to many corporations' advertising efforts to promote the need to drink "healthy" bottled water rather than tap water. Multinational companies across the globe are racking in billions of dollars with very little effort. The taking of "free" water and making huge sums of money is a response to very loose restrictions on water withdrawal. In areas with few or no restrictions companies are able to sink high-capacity withdrawal wells and later implement bottled water plants wherever they please. In 2001 according to Jeffrey Hammon, bottled water industry revenues in the U.S. alone grew by over 13%. According to research and consulting done by the Beverage Marketing Corporation, the global bottled water industry has exploded to over $35 billion. Americans alone paid $7.7 billion for bottled water in 2002. In 2001, for example globally bottled water companies produced over 130,000 million liters of water. This produced roughly 35,000 million dollars in revenue for the world's thousands of bottled water companies in 2001. For more information see the International Council of Bottled Water Association's website.

    Targeted Areas for Bottling Operations

    Corporations primarily target just a few areas to implement new bottling facilities. Each country varies where they allow new facilities to be located. In general most communities fight against corporations taking over local springs and over pumping of groundwater, according to Alliance for Democracy. Huge companies seek this water to fuel the demand for bottled water because regular tap water or municipal water is deemed poor quality. The corporations then make huge profits on water they paid nothing or very little for from Mother Nature.

    Some countries and concerned citizens are bringing water bottling plants to a halt. According to Ratna Bhushan of the Hindu Business Line, in New Delhi, India the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has clamped down on some of the water bottling companies within their region. BIS shut down the production of over 200 bottling plants in India in early 2004 because the plants did not submit test reports or had unsatisfactory performance. Some of these plants included Bisleri, Coca-Cola's Kinly and Kingfisher.

    Hiroshi and Arlene Kanno have had similar battles with trying to prevent Perrier from building a plant that would pump 500 gallons a minute from the Town of Newport in central Wisconsin. The Concerned Citizens of Newport won the battle even after the company tried to bribe the community, hired lobbyists to further its plans, and even had the support of the governor. These two examples are just mere glimpses of what companies will try to make millions from having a new bottling plant put into operation. Perrier moved its bottling plans to Michigan, where it was defeated in 2003. For more information on bottled water issues between citizens and corporate giants see the related webpage Bottled Water Conflicts.

    Metro Active

    Global Bottled Water Companies

    Worldwide there are thousands of companies bottling water for profit. Many of these corporations have grown exponentially. Almost all of these corporations make phenomenal amounts of money on a resource they pay very little for. I believe it a shame that we have quantified water in so many areas of the world. One only has to look at industry leaders such as Thames Water, Perrier, Vivendi, Suez, Pepsi and Coca-Cola to see how their profit margins have been on a steady increase over the last decade, in their bottled water divisions. Bottled water companies fight not only concerned citizens within local areas, but also fight each other in hopes of being the first to establish their own bottling plants.

    German energy conglomerate RWE and French transnational Vivendi currently are the two largest water corporations globally. These giants control almost 40% of the existing water market shares as they are ranked 51st and 53rd among Fortune's Global 500 List. Vivendi alone operates in over 100 countries while the third largest bottling water giant, Suez, operates in more than 130 countries. Suez and Vivendi combined annual revenues push $70 billion. (Public Citizen)

    Global bottled water companies have been criticized for their methods. For example, in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, after American Water Works had been sold to German based RWE, the managers of Nashua's water company Pennichuck decided to post the local company for sale. Then in April 2004, Pennichuck announced that it had received a $106 million purchase offer from Philadelphia Suburban. This company is the second largest investor-owned water utility in the United States. Not surprisingly Vivendi, the huge French conglomerate and one of the world's leading bottled water producers, owned 17% of Philadelphia Suburban. Now the citizens of the greater area of Nashua, New Hampshire are extremely concerned with who will own their public water supply. See American Friends Service Committee for more information on this and other related stories. This example just goes to show how these huge multimillionaire global bottled water corporations will try and get into any place of the water market to further extend their economic domination.

    Culligan

    Conclusion

    The global bottled water industry is in a very powerful position, but is also under increased scrutiny and criticism. I believe that bottling companies have far too much control and are relatively uncontrolled in most places globally. What will happen when our bottled water consumption reaches the projected 50 billion liters by 2008? What will happen when that figure doubles or triples in five or ten years after 2008? I believe that bottled water consumers need to severely limit our bottled water consumption, and alert these huge multinational bottled water corporations of our disapproval of their practices. The citizens of every nation in the world need to stop purchasing bottled water and replace these containers with more durable and reusable containers, such as those made by Nalgene, and make our tap water of higher quality so we can rely on it for our drinking supply.

Sources

Alliance for Democracy

American Friends Service Committee

Australian Bottled Water Institute

Bottled Drinking Water, Health and Purity

Bottled Water Web

Brandchannel.com

Canadian Bottled Water Association

Canadian Springs Water Company

Common Dreams News Center

Culligan

Deep Rock Water

Environmental News Network

European Bottled Watercooler Association

Eva

Evian

Fiji Water

International Bottled Water Association Website

International Council of Bottled Water Associations

Hartford News Advocate

Health Canada

Hindu Business Line

Natural Resources Defense Council

Nestle Waters

Public Citizen

Pure Earth

Splash

World Health Organization