Friday, 10 July 2009

I drink tap water... and I'm okay.

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

A few weeks ago I went to Sydney for the weekend to celebrate my Dad's birthday. On the way there, I passed the turn off to a little town called Bundanoon. Now I've passed by this town so many times in the two decade or so that I've lived in this part of Australia. Not once have I ever considered stopping by until recently...

A few days ago, Bundanoon became the first town in Australia (and perhaps the world?) who have banned the sale of bottled water.

I have to admit, the bottled water phenomenon has been a puzzling one for me. I remember growing up as a child here in Australia and happily drinking from bubblers (water fountains) and taps in the park. While I admit that these days, we now see more and more public taps connected on to grey water (and with appropriate signs saying so), I still don't get why people regularly buy bottled water.

Now I admit to buying the odd bottle now and then when I can't see a public tap around and my water bottle is empty. I think though, the time when I realised that bottled water was a norm was when I was filling up my daughter's water bottle (then she was 2 years old) at a public tap. I heard a gasp from another person and she very concernedly asked me "are you giving her water from that tap?!"

Me: "erm, yes."
Other person" "but its dangerous!"
Me: "But why? Its the same water that comes out of our tap at home."
Other person: "You mean you drink from your tap at home too?!!"
Me: "erm, yes."
Other person: "but its dangerous!"
Me: "since when?"

And I've never really received a clear answer to that one. Searching through the internet, I find loads of information for and against bottled water. (I will provide links of those I consider better sources at the bottom of this article.)

However, the one thing that convinces me that tap water is safe to drink (aside from the fact that I've been drinking it now for almost 30 years without any side effects) is that I have actually *seen* unsafe tap water.

I was born in a third world country. I have since visited other third world countries. I have seen what inadequate sewage and water treatment can do to water supplies. The water is literally polluted to the point that it is undrinkable. The smell arising from this untreated water is enough to turn your stomach, let alone try drinking it.

According to the WHO, about 1.1 billion people do not have access to drinkable water. As a direct consequence:
  • 1.6 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera) attributable to lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and 90% of these are children under 5, mostly in developing countries;
  • 160 million people are infected with schistosomiasis causing tens of thousands of deaths yearly; 500 million people are at risk of trachoma from which 146 million are threatened by blindness and 6 million are visually impaired;
  • intestinal helminths (ascariasis, trichuriasis and hookworm infection) are plaguing the developing world due to inadequate drinking water, sanitation and hygiene with 133 million suffering from high intensity intestinal helminths infections; there are around 1.5 million cases of clinical hepatitis A every year.

Given those statistics, the arguments against tap water, here in Australia seem...well.... a bit "precious". I think we are lucky to have access to drinkable water that meets appropriate standards and are regularly tested.

And even one doesn't agree with the standards, there are also a lot more green alternatives to buying bottled water. The most obvious one is to have water filtration at home.

Anyway, I won't belabour the point. :) I'm just proud that a small country town near my city has banned the sale of bottled water. I will certainly be visiting that town in the next few weeks or so, just so I can show my support...and drink from the public water fountains like the rest of its residents. :)

**Note that I am talking of tap water available to most Australian cities - I know that there will always be exceptions.

Arguments For Bottled Water

Australian Bottled Water Institute (includes the Australian standards for Bottled Water)

Arguments Against Bottled Water

Choice Magazine - while trying to be neutral, article comes to the conclusion that bottled water is not safer but it is 'convenient' when out and about.

Kindred Media - compares Australian standards for tap water and bottled water

Market Watch - compares US Standards for tap water and bottled water

Environmental Working Group - Bottled Water Scorecard

Which - discusses UK consumption of bottled water and at the end of the article provides water FAQs