in Greener Homes on 14 August 2011
Household taps run cheaper and greener than store water
IF you buy a bottle of water at a service station, you’ll pay about $3 for 600 ml. For the same cost – at Melbourne’s water rates (excluding fixed charges) – you could refill that bottle with tap water once a day, every day, for nearly nine years.
Environmentalist Jon Dee, from Do Something, says our growing thirst for packaged water simply doesn’t make sense, either financially or environmentally.
He has owned the same reusable bottle for a decade. “Often when I refill it, I think about all the money I’ve saved,” he says. “Australians are spending more than half a billion dollars a year on bottled water, even though we have some of the best quality tap water in the world.”
Mr Dee founded the Go Tap campaign, which aims to make people stop and think before they buy bottled water – not only because of the needless expense, but also because of the hidden costs, all the way from the source to the sea.
“When the water is extracted from groundwater or springs, there can be real concerns about the impact on the local water table,” Mr Dee says. “For every litre of bottled water sold, the industry uses between 1.3 and 3 litres of water.”
And although the containers are recyclable, Australians only recycle one in every three PET bottles we use – the rest end up as litter or landfill. “A lot of us drink bottled water down by the beach and leave them there. When the tide comes in, it takes all those empty bottles out into the pacific,” Mr Dee says.
“Also, from a greenhouse emissions point of view, bottled water uses up an enormous amount of energy.”
The Pacific Institute, a US-based environmental research group, estimates that it can take up to 250 ml of oil to make a litre of bottled water. The energy is consumed in producing and transporting the packaging, as well as trucking the water to and from the factories, and keeping it refrigerated night and day.
Mr Dee says importing expensive water from overseas is particularly absurd. “It’s total nonsense to be shipping water from Europe all the way to Australia, when we have such great water here.”
A blind taste test (PDF) conducted by Choice in 2005 found that participants weren’t able to tell the difference between Sydney tap water and two brands of bottled water. “Once you take away the logo and all the marketing that goes with it, you’re just left with water and most people cannot tell the difference,” Mr Dee says.
“If you’re not confident about the pipes in your area, or you’re in a house with very old pipes, the simple solution is to buy a filter,” he says. “You can get a filter jug or an under-sink filter and the cost will range between 3 and 6 cents per litre.”
As part of the Go Tap campaign, the New South Wales town of Bundanoon banned the sale of bottled water, but Mr Dee says that’s not necessary throughout the country.
“We’re trying to encourage an appropriate level of use,” he says. “Even if you’ve got a refillable bottle, sometimes on a long journey you may need to buy water. But be informed about what you’re buying and make sure you go tap whenever possible.”