ALEXANDRIA, VA — This year’s theme for World Water Day 2011, celebrated annually on March 22, is “Water For Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge.” This United Nations (U.N.) sponsored event is held every year to focus attention on the importance of fresh water, and to advocate the sustainable management of fresh water resources. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and the bottled water industry support World Water Day and recognize the importance of a safe and sustainable water supply.
Water – from the tap or bottle – is essential to life. And bottled water is a clean, safe, convenient, and healthy product that consumers find refreshing and use to stay hydrated. “The bottled water industry fully recognizes the importance of protecting the quantity and quality of water. The bottled water industry supports a strong and adequately funded municipal water system,” says Joe Doss, president and CEO of IBWA. “Governments, businesses, communities and individuals must work together to help protect, preserve and provide a clean, safe water supply. Most communities in America, as well as many bottled water companies, depend upon fresh, available surface water for tap water, so protecting municipal water supplies should be one of everyone’s top concerns,” he added.
Bottled water companies that produce purified water often use municipal water sources. Once the municipal source water enters the bottled water plant, several processes are employed to ensure that it meets the purified or sterile standard of U.S. Pharmacopeia, 23rd Revision. Bottled water companies that produce spring water products are entirely dependent upon a safe, fresh supply of constantly recharged and replenished groundwater for their livelihood.
Bottled water products – whether from groundwater or public water sources – are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach, which helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, ultraviolet (UV) light or other safe and effective methods. These steps are considered effective in safeguarding bottled water from microbiological and other contamination.
Over the last several years, the bottled water industry has demonstrated solid environmental leadership when it comes to water conservation and efficiency. Bottled water companies utilize and manage water resources in a responsible manner by 1) investing in broadly accepted science and technology to improve water quality, and 2) strengthening water conservation practices. The industry is also working to bottle and dispose of packaged water products in ways that best serve the environment.
The bottled water industry uses minimal amounts of water to produce an important, healthy and calorie-free consumer product—and does so with great efficiency In the United States, bottled water production accounts for less than 2/100 of a percent (0.02%) of the total ground water withdrawn each year. Even though it is a minimal groundwater user and is only one of among thousands of food, beverage and commercial water users, bottled water companies actively support comprehensive ground water management policies that are science-based, multi-jurisdictional, treat all users equitably, and provide for future needs of this important resource.
In many parts of the world, clean safe water is unavailable or only available in limited quantities, even in stable periods without an over-arching natural disaster. While governments and the private sector work to find permanent solutions to provide clean drinking water in underserved urban communities around the world, bottled water, combined with other solutions such as filtration and bulk filling stations, is an efficient and effective means of delivering clean, sanitary drinking water where insufficient or non-existent water delivery infrastructure poses life-threatening problems. In addition, a growing number of bottled water companies are designating a portion of their income to support global programs, which help create long term solutions for the provision of water for drinking, sanitation and hygiene in underserved and developing communities.
Consumers across the United States choose bottled water because it is a healthy, refreshing beverage. As a manufactured food product, bottled water is similar to thousands of other beverage and food products that are comprehensively regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food product. Bottled water has its own stringent FDA manufacturing standards governing its safety, purity and labeling. And by law, FDA standards for bottled water must be as protective of public health as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s tap water regulations.
Bottled Water’s Effective Environmental Actions
Consumers should be aware that bottled water containers are fully recyclable and should be properly recycled through whatever system their local municipality has in place. In fact, all bottled water containers –whether plastic, glass or aluminum—are recyclable. IBWA actively supports comprehensive curbside recycling programs, partners with other beverage and food companies, municipalities, and the recycling industry, as we seek to educate consumers about recycling, and work to increase all recycling to reduce litter. Currently, 31% of all bottled water containers are recycled – a record high result for any PET plastic container.
By using recycled materials, alternative packaging (recycled PET, PLA, biodegradable and compostable materials), and increasing the fuel efficiency in the transportation of their products to market, the bottled water industry is working to reduce its environmental footprint. By developing and using lighter-weight plastics for its containers, in eight years, the average weight of single-serve bottled water has decreased by over 32%. Recent Life Cycle Inventory studies have verified that bottled water products have a very small environmental footprint.
Bottled water containers make up a very small part of the waste stream, accounting for less than one-third of one percent all waste produced in the U.S. Any efforts to reduce the environmental impact of packaging must be comprehensive and focus on all consumer goods.
The larger bottles found on many home and office bottled water coolers can be sanitized and re-used an average of 40 times before the bottled water company removes them from the marketplace and recycles them. That is why the bottled water industry is considered one of the “original recyclers.”
Bottled Water and Emergency Response
Unforeseen natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan, show how vulnerable l water systems can be. Days after the earthquake struck, Japanese officials were overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, with millions of people facing days and nights without electricity, water, food or heat in near-freezing temperatures, according to the Associated Press of Japan. British news sources reported 1.5 million people in Japan – mostly in urban areas — were without water. U.S. bottlers immediately provided several million dollars in cash and product donations, joining in a huge international effort to provided bottled water.
In times of emergency, bottled water is a staple and always there when you need it. Floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, boil alerts and other events often compromise municipal water systems. Domestically, IBWA members contribute millions of gallons of water each year to the affected victims and work closely with federal, state and local agencies on a year-round basis to prepare for emergency distribution of water. IBWA’s broad-ranging expertise can help government officials better understand the issues involved as they attempt to create a more workable system.
Bottled water companies are often the first responders to these emergency situations, acting as a backup for compromised public water systems. However, for bottled water to be available in emergency situations there must also be a viable commercial marketplace that supports its production. Reducing the commercial viability of bottled water could seriously threaten its availability during emergency situations, and laws and actions which negatively target bottled water are an ironic disservice to, and poor public policy for, an industry that is called upon every year to provide crucial drinking water throughout the U.S. and the world.