Bottled water is ridiculous. People pay vast amounts of money for water which
is generally of lower quality than tap water – especially if it comes
in a throwaway plastic bottle and has been sitting there for more than a couple
of months. Increasingly,
high-end restaurants, especially in California, are abjuring bottled water in
favor of their own on-site filtration systems. And in a sign of desperation,
Evian, home of the world’s worst website, has released
something called the Palace bottle, complete with its own coaster, which apparently
"brings a heightened level of luxury to fine dining occasions". With
any luck, the writing is on the wall, and consumers will start appreciating
bottled water for what it is: an utter
waste of both carbon and money.
But what about places like China? Surely there, where tap water is known to
be unsafe, one can justify the existence of bottle water? Actually, no. You
know how Dasani and Aquafina are basically just rebranded tap water? Well, it
turns out that in
China, bottled water is literally rebranded tap water.
Up to half of the water used in water coolers across China’s capital could
be "fake", or not as pure as its manufacturers claim, state media
said on Tuesday of the latest in a series of health scares…
Three years ago, a nationwide inspection on barrelled water found a 22 percent
substandard rate. In the most serious case, 80 percent of barrelled water
in the southern province of Jiangxi was reportedly not the real thing.
In much of the developing world, the rise of bottled water is invidious. The
elites know that the tap water is dirty, so they start drinking bottled instead
– and as a result, they have much less incentive to make the tap water
clean. It’s a bit like the crime rate in Mexico City or Johannesburg: if it
gets so bad that the rich start hiring their own security guards and living
behind razor wire, then at that point they’ve taken matters into their own hands
and become less interested in working towards a broader societal solution to
the crime problem.
So even though the Chinese elite are enraged
by this news, in my eyes it’s not all bad. In China, it seems, the only way
to guarantee clean water for anybody is to guarantee clean water for everybody.
And what’s more, with any luck this news will keep demand for bottled water
subdued. I’m hoping that by the time China becomes the world’s dominant economic
power, bottled water will be remembered as a 20th-Century curiosity, rather
than a fact of life.