Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A drink that costs the earth

click photo to enlarge
I could never have been an entrepr-
eneur or a venture capitalist. If someone came to me and said, "Hey, I've got this great idea. We could put water in a plastic bottle, sell it for more than the price of petrol, maybe, 5,000 to 10,000 times the cost of tap water, and people won't be able to get enough of it!" Well, I'd laugh them out of the door. I'd consider the idea utterly preposterous! But, that's what happens, and I just can't understand it.

People say, "Ah, but it's spring water with minerals, it's better than tap water, and it's a lifestyle accessory!" Rubbish! It's water, H2O! Often it's not as pure as tap water, usually it's indistinguishable in terms of taste, and its beneficial effect is identical. Coca Cola gave the game away in the UK when they tried to sell their version of bottled water, Dasani. It turned out to be from a tap in a factory in Slough!

But the problem only starts with price and equivalence. There's the environmental cost of moving bottles of water around the world. In 2004 Finland shipped 1.4 million bottles to Saudi Arabia! Market forces mean European countries swap lorry loads of water every day as consumers express their preference for French or German or British. The 1.5 million barrels of oil required annually for the bottles that hold water in the U.S. could power 100,000 cars for a year, and 86% of those bottles become garbage or litter. Whichever way you look at it bottled water costs too much.

"OK", I hear you say, "have you never bought a bottle of water?" Of course I have, when I've run out of the tap water I'm carrying, or if I've needed a drink when I'm out and about. I'm not saying that it shouldn't exist, or that there's no legitimate demand, but is there any real need, in places where pure water is readily on tap, to buy shrink-wraps of multiple 2 litre bottles a couple of times a week? Whilst we may be able to afford it in terms of cash, can we really afford the true cost?

My photograph above shows one of the ubiquitous bottles. It was on a window sill at my place of work, with a small orange ball next to it. The late evening light made it catch my eye. I moved the ball to increase its effect, then used a macro lens to emphasise the horizontal pattern and the way the plastic deformed the colour.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen