Monday, October 20, 2008

Water As It Oughta

I've always thought the buying of mineral water in plastic bottles faintly ludicrous – rather like, say, the buying of bottled oxygen – when tap water is 10,000 times cheaper, tastes absolutely fine and is 99% safe. It seems almost churlish not to drink it, after all, about a third of the planet doesn't actually have access to clean drinking water – and 88% of all diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water.

Bottled water companies have always pushed the so-called 'fact' that we need to drink two litres of water a day to stay hydrated (which has never actually been scientifically proven). What they don't state is the obvious – that virtually any liquid will do the job, be it tap water, tea*, orange juice, even beer – not just over-priced bottled mineral water. And food also contains much liquid. We've been so brainwashed into using bottles of mineral water that many of us can't even get on the tube for half an hour or walk to the shops without clutching a bottle, just in case we'll die of dehydration on the spot.

We all tend to believe the imagery bottle companies foster of Amazonian waterfalls, snow-capped mountains or fresh natural springs and figure this is what goes into our bottle. Water bottle companies use terms such as 'natural', '100% pure' and 'fresh' – yet these terms are virtually meaningless – there is no law that these terms need to be substantiated. They are opinions rather than facts.

The ethics involved in the production and transportation of water bottles mean for every litre produced, two litres of water is wasted during the purification process. Bottles can stay in storage for months. They travel hundreds of miles by truck. 90% of water bottles are not recycled. The reality for a plastic bottle is not a healthy one.

Most alarmingly though, is recent evidence that the plastic the bottles are made of, Lexan polycarbonate resin, a plastic polymer, has alarming health risks including possible birth defects such as miscarriages and Down's syndrome.

Finally, there's something of a backlash – bottled water sales are down for the first time in years. It's now not totally embarrassing to insist on tap water in restaurants (bottled water has more of a mark up than wine in restaurants) – as I've always done.

I lament the passing of public water-drinking fountains, now resigned to the bygone era that includes Chopper bikes, Pac-Man and apple scrumping. They used to be a feature of every park, always well-needed after a game of football, as well as being a focal meeting point, and great fun for water fights too. Kids nowadays think water actually comes from bottles.

*See Barnflakes's now-legendary T.E.A. Theory PowerPoint presentation for more details on the restorative qualities of tea. Recent research has shown tea to be healthier than water.

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