'Bottle vs tap' is really no contest

24 Feb 2008 (Updated 1 Feb 2009)

The bottled water debate continues [Photo by Umberto]
The bottled water debate continues [Photo by Umberto]

Water UK, which represents all UK water and wastewater service suppliers at a national and European level, and which provides a positive framework for the water industry to engage with government, regulators, stakeholder organisations and the public, has waded into the current bottled water debate.

Water UK, which represents all UK water and wastewater service suppliers at a national and European level, and which provides a positive framework for the water industry to engage with government, regulators, stakeholder organisations and the public, has waded into the current bottled water debate.

The current spate of programmes and articles about the fall from grace of bottled water points to one of the most remarkable reversals in modern consumer marketing. Just two or three years ago, sales looked set to continue a decade of spectacular growth driven by increasing interest in health, an expanding economy and clever promotion.

Now, the first evidence of falling sales has marked the turn. What happened? The truth is that, for most people, most of the time, tap is the nation's choice and always has been. It was always questionable to compare it with a consumer product-child of its time that danced like a beachball on a fountain of lifestyle froth and celebrity.

Now the light has dawned and reveals, not shiny high status people or limpid mountain streams, but a networked public service that benefits everyone. In place of froth, we have quality, reliability and value for money; in place of 'lifestyle' advertising, we have concern for the environment.

And just as generations ago, the public water service brought a permanent improvement in the national health, we now see that it can play a big part in helping tackle climate change.

Of course, it makes sense to provide mains water rather than bottled in schools, hospitals, factories, offices and restaurants. Of course, transporting water halfway around the world and lugging heavy litres from the supermarket each week makes very little sense.

Accepting all this, is it really right to demonise bottled water?

High quality water is good for you whatever its source. Bottled water has a vital role if a mains supply is interrupted. And aren't bottled brands better partners for on-the-move lifestyles than sweet, fizzy drinks?

For most people, most of the time, UK tap water is the right choice for quality, health and the environment. But let's not get carried way.