Bottled Water: What are the real environmental and social implications?

Bottled water. Just why does it cause so much angst? How did one of the healthiest and most natural consumer products get to be the focus of so much annoyance given that here’s a drink that, from a health standpoint, doesn’t cause obesity; or dental decay; or poor driving and concentration (on the contrary); no-one ever got arrested for drinking too much of it and brawling in the streets on a Saturday night.

 

Not only is this a drink that is positively good for us; it’s also a positive force for good when it comes to the environment. Natural mineral water and spring water are served to you – in their still unadulterated form - just as nature intended – with nowt added and nowt taken out.

 

So it doesn’t take a food scientist to realise that a product which is as natural as most bottled waters must come out of the ground in a near perfect state. And they do. All that may be done to natural mineral waters is to filter out any sand or grit and, for sparkling versions, to add a little carbon dioxide. And that’s it. Nothing may be done which alters their natural characteristics. So, if those who criticise stopped just for a moment longer to consider the matter, they’d realise that in fact the bottled water firms must act as stewards of the vast swathes of land from which the water is drawn. The land needs to be clean and pollution free because without clean land, they wouldn’t have a business. It’s that simple.

 

Most people don’t see the places where bottled water comes from. That’s because they are usually in remote rural areas such as the depths of Wales, the rolling hills of northern England or the Highlands of Scotland. The result of their very location is that these companies, small though most are, act as truly important businesses offering employment to help keep alive remote communities.

 

Of course, cutting down on food miles is a key consideration and therefore buying waters that are as local as possible is the preferred aim for many people who want to drink the best but at the same time help the environment. Business customers are recognising the need to stock waters that not only reflect their customers’ needs but also enhance their own environmental impacts.

 

“Environmental credentials used to be low on the purchasing agenda when considering which brands to stock. Now, they are at - or pretty near - the top of the agenda,” according to David Relph, General Manager, Sales & Marketing for the Welsh water firm, Ty Nant Spring Water Ltd, whose company is justly proud of its eco-credentials.

 

Also in Wales, Llanllyr Source, fights the good fight when it comes to eco- credentials. Managing Director Patrick Gee says: “We take our responsibilities to the environment and the community very seriously. Llanllyr Source comes from farmland that has been well-treated over the generations and whose excellence has been recognised by the Soil Association which has given the land organic certification. Our sources are entirely sustainable. We have Organic Farmers and Growers accreditation for both our line and processes and have established programmes to maximise the use of recycled materials including now over 25 per cent of the glass we use. In addition we are UN Global Compact signatories. We are also members of British Bottled Water Producers which encourages

best practice amongst smaller British companies”.

 

Llanllyr Source packages much of its product in glass and is also one of the few firms to introduce water in a can, which can also be easily recycled.

 

Ty Nant is a British company which has solidly and relentlessly treated sustainability as a priority. The West Wales firm, which owns three distinct brands – Ty Nant, Tau and its latest launch, Seren – has put environmental matters to the fore throughout its 20 year history. With astonishing prescience, the management team instinctively recognised the fact that for a natural water company, treating nature with respect will pay dividends. Ty Nant recently achieved Soil Association status certifying the land from which the water is drawn as organic. It is clear that having environmental credentials as the backbone to the company’s ethos, not just as a marketing ‘add-on’, makes the work credible and fundamental.

 

David Relph voices what many in the industry feel, when it comes to defending the sector. He says: “Criticisms of the bottled water industry are all too often grossly unjust, as anyone who is familiar with the industry will know. Few other industries are as green and clean as ours whilst offering a product that is arguably one of the healthiest around. So, to say we offer something both for the planet and its people is rather an understatement.”

 

Eco-friendly though they are, the authentic well-established firms are as careful to be honest as they are to manage their land and other resources correctly. There is scepticism amongst many companies about the claims of carbon neutrality made by a few. Relph is honest and straightforward about his firm’s position: “At Ty Nant we don’t think that buying carbon credits is good enough. We believe that both trade customers and, in turn, their guests demand products that come from producers that genuinely care about their impact and are environmentally-sound.

 

The principles that Ty Nant has followed for twenty years have now come into their own. It is nonsense for any bottled water company – indeed for any packaged food or drinks firms – to claim carbon neutrality. The best any of us can do is to constantly strive for environmental improvements, remembering that you don’t have to be bad to get better!”

 

These companies are fiercely proud of their environmental efforts in the round. Attention is paid to reducing energy consumption, packaging, labelling and attending to improved logistics to cut down the carbon footprint.

 

Yet another Welsh water company, Brecon Mineral Water, which bottles the brand Brecon Carreg, is also helping reduce environmental impacts by massive reductions in packaging (both bottles and film for multi-packs) as well as energy use and attention to logistics so cutting down on the number of delivery drops and distance travelled.

 

Liz Sherry, General Manager of Brecon Carreg, sums it up. She says: “In a nutshell, buying British Bottled Water makes sense because it is good for the environment, good for the countryside, good for health and good for rural, local jobs. Not many people can say that about their products.”

 

Caring for this set of unique natural products is, it seems, good not just for the environment and the health of individuals but also for business and local communities. British politicians and others influential groups and individuals should perhaps be looking to support and even applaud these innovative indigenous businesses rather than treating them as pariahs.

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