Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Water, water everywhere...

Bottled water has, like Lemmy's warts, long been fascinating to me. I only recently discovered, for example, that Perrier and other sparkling waters do not come out of the ground fizzy: they have the bubbles added at the bottling plant. What a con that is, eh? I suppose the same must be true of Champagne.

Thus I was intrigued to read of a report suggesting mineral water may not be as good for us as the marketing tricksters would have it. Not only is it more expensive than tap water, but it also costs more in environmental terms (with bottles being flown in from around the globe to quench our collective thirst) and is possibly harmful to our health, with elements in the water and chemicals in the PET bottles potentially giving us cancer or doing us other damage.

I'm not entirely convinced of this: the examples they cite include one from 1989 (probably due to inferior bottling technology in those days) and one from 2004. This doesn't seem to be a persistent issue, and if it's the PET that's causing the problems, then most of the food we buy in supermarkets, and all the bottles of Coke, lemonade and other drinks will present a similar risk. The French Senate also recommends changing brand frequently to avoid overdosing on certain elements, but this is only obvious - a balanced diet would naturally include such variation, non?

What really intrigues me is the notion of bottled water as a fashion accessory. The report says that women, in particular, buy bottled water because it's a trendy thing to do. I think this is rubbish. People drink water because they are thirsty and they buy bottled water because it's a convenient way of transporting the water around. Nobody reads the label for the breakdown of the mineral content to find the trace element of the month ("It's 2007 and everyone's talking about magnesium!"). I admit that there is some difference in taste between the sparkling waters, but people don't carry those in their handbags. I suspect the vast majority of still water consumers choose brands like this:

"Ok, so Evian is 79p and Vittel is 69p. Hmm, I'll take the Vittel."

In America, I'd guess that bottled water is less popular than in the UK. Why? Because they have drinking fountains over there. In Britain, the only place you will find a drinking fountain is in a primary school, and you wouldn't drink from it because "one of the fourth years had a wee in it last week". They are also believed to spread cholera. In the land of the free, on the other hand, the water fountain is as ubiquitous as the stars and stripes. You find them in airports, museums, courthouses, libraries, parks and casinos. There is no need to carry a bottle of water to slake one's thirst as you can just bend over and press the button.

Drinking fountains are very convenient and such fun, except the really powerful ones that get you in the eye if you're not ready, and they should introduce them more widely in Europe too. It might not be fashionable, but if the report is right, it could help the environment and save your life.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

I wholeheartedly agree with what you're saying and second your call for more drinking fountains. From a trip to Rome some 10 years or so ago, I remember that they had drinking fountains all over the town and it was just great.

In Germay, though, it certainly wouldn't work. Germans are generally scared of tap water - possibly because it's not sparkling. I remember when I asked for a glass of still water with my wine in a German restaurant (well, some sort of country inn)- they didn't have any still water (!). Since sparkling water always makes me burp and the occassion wasn't one for burping, I said a glass of tap water will just do nicely. It took quite a while to convince the waiter that tap water was alright. It would have been easier to nip out to the toilet and help myself to the tap there.