than 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water.
Many of these people, particularly those in developing countries,
increasingly depend on bottled water for their survival. But
consumption of bottled water is also soaring in developed countries
with adequate supplies of potable tap water. People with access
to safe public drinking water-who are willing to spend up to
1000 times more for bottled water-represent the world's largest
consumers of bottled water.
About half of all Americans drink bottled water regularly, and
this number is steadily rising. Bottled water sales in the U.S.
rose 11.5% in 2001 to nearly $6.5 billion, and per capita bottled
water consumption has doubled in the last decade. By 2005, bottled
water is expected to surpass milk and coffee and become the
No. 2 beverage behind soft drinks.
What has driven this consumer demand for bottled water? Is bottled
water safer than the water that comes out of our taps? Click
on the water bottle to learn more about this $22 billion business,
and read what non-governmental organizations, bottled water
companies and environmental groups have to say about the fastest-growing
beverage industry in the world.
SAFE IS IT?
Water Industry: The bottled water industry asserts
that in the past 37 years, the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention has never confirmed an outbreak of illness
in the U.S. linked to bottled water. The International
Bottled Water Association (IBWA), the trade association
representing the bottled water industry, provides testing
information on water contaminants to consumers on request.
Consumers may check the IBWA
Web site or call 800-WATER-11 to find out
if their favorite brand is covered by the association's
groups: In 1999, The Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC) released a four-year study of the bottled water
industry. The study tested more than 1,000 bottles of
103 different brands of bottled water, and while most
of the tested bottled waters were determined to be of
high quality, some brands were contaminated. About one-third
of the water bottles tested contained synthetic organic
chemicals and bacteria, and one sample contained arsenic
levels that exceeded state health limits.
World Health Organization: The WHO's Guidelines
for Drinking-water Quality state that substances like
lead, arsenic and fluoride may be more readily controlled
in bottled water than in tap water. Yet the Guidelines
also state that some substances are more difficult to
manage in bottled water than in tap water. The WHO notes
that bottled water is stored for longer periods and at
higher temperatures than tap water, allowing some microorganisms
to grow to higher levels. The WHO cautions that because
bottled water is not sterile, infants, pregnant women
and immuno-compromised individuals may be vulnerable to
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Look closely at the label on the water bottle if you want
to know where your water comes from.
Water Industry: About 25% of the bottled water sold
in the United States comes from a municipal water source.
Most of this water has gone through processing such as
reverse osmosis, deionization, activated carbon filtration
and other approved treatment procedures. FDA regulations
require bottlers to distinguish between several types
of water, described on the International Bottled Water
Association Web site:
Water comes from a well that taps an aquifer in which
the water level is higher than the top of the aquifer.
Water is another name for bottled water that contains
no sweeteners or chemical additives.
Water contains at least 250 parts per million total
Water has been produced by distillation, deionization,
reverse osmosis, or other approved treatment procedures.
Water, after treatment and possible replacement with
carbon dioxide, contains the came about of carbon dioxide
it had at the source (not to be confused with soda water,
seltzer water or tonic water).
Water comes from an underground formation from which
water flows to the surface.
Water comes from a hole drilled in the ground which
taps the water in an aquifer.
Groups: The NRDC claims some private bottlers use
municipal water and promote the bottled brand as better,
misleading the public with descriptive terminology and
imagery. The NRDC's study cites photos of mountains and
glaciers on water bottle labels and terms like "pristine"
and "natural" to describe water that comes from a municipal
WHAT'S IT KEPT IN?
Although bottled water can be packaged in variety of materials,
including aluminum cans, glass or plastic bottles, the
fastest-growing component of the market is the sale of
single-serve and multiple packs of water packaged in plastic
polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. The PET share of the
market increased from less than one-tenth in the early
1990s to one-third of all bottled water sales. The Beverage
Marketing Corporation attributes the explosive growth
of the premium PET market to consumers' desire for convenience.
Water Industry: The International Bottled Water Association
asserts that all bottled water packaging is recyclable.
Bottles are collected, cleaned and sanitized, and reused
up to 100 times. When the bottles are no longer reusable,
they are recycled into other consumer products.
Groups: A 2001 World Wildlife Fund-commissioned study,
"Bottled Water: Understanding a Social Phenomenon," found
that PET requires less energy to recycle than glass or
aluminum, and releases fewer emissions into the atmosphere.
However the study notes that the manufacture of plastic
bottles can release phathalates, or other by-products
of plastic-making into the environment. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention reports that while more
research is needed to determine the harmful effects of
phthalates among humans, phthalates given at very high
doses to animals during pregnancy may produce birth defects
Perrier Vittel-a division of Nestlé S.A., the world's
largest food company-is the largest bottled water company
in the world. Perrier Vittel serves customers in 140 countries
on five continents with more than 70 bottled water brands.
Its major competitor, the DANONE Group, whose brands include
Evian and Volvic, holds the number two spot worldwide
in bottled water.
The Perrier Group of America has been a subsidiary of
Perrier Vittel S.A. since 1992, and it is currently the
largest bottled water company in the United States. The
Perrier Group of America's sales have more than doubled
over the course of five years. Its share of U.S. bottled
water sales increased from about one-quarter in 1996 to
nearly one-third by 2001. Its wholesale dollar sales increased
by 23.5% in 2001, surpassing $2 billion.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water,
which is considered a public utility, while the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water, which
is deemed a food product.
Bottled Water Industry: The Safe Drinking Water Act
requires FDA regulations for bottled water to be at least
as stringent as those imposed by the EPA for tap water,
and bottled water must be tested for the same contaminants
as tap water. The bottled water industry touts bottled
water as one of the most regulated food products in the
country. Bottlers must adhere to the FDA's Quality Standards,
Standards of Identity (Labeling Regulations) and Good
Environmental Groups: The Natural Resources Defense
Council asserts that bottled water regulations are inadequate
to assure consumers of purity or safety. The NRDC claims
that bottled water is subject to less rigorous testing
and purity standards than those required of city tap water.
The NRDC notes that bottled water is required to be tested
less frequently than city tap water for bacteria and chemical
contaminants, and that bottled water rules allow for some
contamination by E. coli or fecal coliform while tap water
rules prohibit any contamination with these bacteria.