Bottled Water: Drink Responsibly

By Hongqiao Liu 15 October, 2015

The bottled water you are drinking has an impact. CWR's Liu on why consumers need to drink responsibly

Bottled doesn't guarantee better quality with antibiotics & other chemicals present, lax regulations & 'fake' water
Bottled water costs ~RMB1,500/year vs. tap at RMB 3.5/year; has a high water, energy & plastic footprint
Groundwater & Asia's watersheds are threatened; need a bottled water revolution & change in consumer behaviour

Recently, I attended two award ceremonies that honoured the press & figures working in the environment space. In the first ceremony, like many others, unlimited bottled water was provided, whilst in the second ceremony bottled water was not provided and instead only refilling services (drinking cups not included).
On the invitation for the second ceremony was a line saying “We offer water refilling services. Please bring your own bottle.” Though the sentence was highlighted on the invitation many attendees failed to bring their own bottle. As a result some attendees complained and left early. Some of the complaints were about not considering the attendees and how it was “impolite” of the organisers not to provide bottled water.
The incident was ironic – there people were, including some of the most active people in the environmental space and yet they didn’t have a refillable water bottle nor did they support the initiative of the organiser by bringing a refillable bottle.

8 Things You Should Know About Bottled Water In China ReportChina Water Risk Report - Bottled Water In China-Boom Or Bust
Bottled water comes at a high cost to the environment  – the unseen water footprint, energy consumption, plastic crisis and intrusion into fragile water sources. More on this is “8 Things You Should Know About Bottled Water In China“, (available in Chinese too). This is part of the recent report “Bottled Water In China: Boom Or Bust? (available in Chinese too), which explores the rise of the bottled water industry and its exposure to physical water risks. It also reviews the steps taken by the government to protect water sources and regulate the bottled water industry. For more on this see our overview here.

Consumers can play a big role – know what you are drinking

In order to make change we need a bottled water revolution. Industry is unlikely to instigate change since the total sales output value of the market in 2012 was over RMB83 billion and there are plans for growth. The government can play a big role in this but one of the biggest players can be consumers, but before this can happen consumer behaviour needs to change.

53% of surveyed are bottled water drinkers & half of them are regular purchasers
‘convenience/ availability’ is the primary reason why

A recent survey by Civic Exchange on bottled water consumption in HK showed that 53% of surveyed are bottled water drinkers and half of them are regular purchasers. Data like this clearly shows why we can’t ignore consumer’s role. To change behaviour we need to know why this behaviour is happening and align contradicting demands for cheap & convenient products that are also environmentally friendly. The survey showed that ‘convenience/ availability’ is the primary reason why people drink bottled water, with 58.2% saying this.
Big consumers also have a role to play. This includes SOEs, large corporations, employers & others. One example is China Railway Corporation (China Railway), which announced in July 2015 that it will no longer provide free bottled mineral water to passengers on the high-speed train (China Railway High-speed, CRH). Instead they will provide water refilling stations at railway stations. This can also be an example for employers where usually only bottled or carboy water is provided; 22.4% of bottled water drinkers said they drink bottled water as there was ‘no other choice’.
If consumers start to rethink their drinking behaviours, then there is hope for change. Know what you are drinking with the eight points below.


8 Things You Should Know About Bottled Water In China 1. Bottled doesn’t necessarily mean better quality water
2. Bottling factories are not properly regulated leaving you exposed
3. Bottled water is very expensive compared to tap water
4. One bottle of bottled water = up to almost three additional bottles of water + ¼ bottle of oil
5. Water use by the bottled water industry can fill more than 20 west lakes
6. Bottled water industry energy consumption = annual electricity generated by the Three Gorges Dam
7. Bottled water industry uses one Jinmao Tower of plastics a year
8. Bottled water threatens China’s groundwater and Asia’s glacial watersheds

(Click on image to enlarge)


China cannot afford to add one Jinmao Tower of plastic waste every year

Chinas Bottled Water Production If Per Capita Consumption Grew To The Size Of Hong Kong & MexicoChina’s limited resources & limited recycling programmes mean it cannot afford to add one Jinmao Tower of plastic a year, let alone match the consumption level of Hong Kong (4x) – which would mean adding 4 Jinmao Towers of plastic a year. (click on image to enlarge)
However, this room for growth is why some say the industry has “yet to awake”.
Now that you know these 8 things you can make sure you drink responsibly and spread the word. By shining the spotlight on issues and with simple changes to drinking behaviours, a bottled water revolution can happen.  Do your part now.


Further Reading

  • China’s Bottled Water: Boom Or Bust? -China’s bottled water industry stands at a fork in the road. Big expansion plans by the industry could be derailed by central policies to protect drinking water sources. Get ahead of these key risks
  • Are You A Responsible Consumer? – With waste levels already sky high and set to grow, China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor mulls over the challenges of being a responsible consumer from fashion to food to plastic. Whether as an individual or corporate, see what action you can take
  • Plastic Waste: The Vector For Change – USD13billion is the annual cost of impact of plastic pollution to our oceans. Doug Woodring, founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance, shares challenges ahead and strategies for a plastics-free ocean
  • Unwrapping Packaging Water Risks – China’s paper packaging industry discharges wastewater similar to its entire coal industry. Explore the dirty secrets behind paper & plastic packaging with China Water Risk’s Feng Hu. Also, see how shifting consumer attitudes can bring about new innovations
  • China Water Riskspecial report: “Bottled Water In China: Boom Or Bust?

Bottled Water In China - Boom Or Bust - Report Covers

Chinas Long March To Drinking Water 2015 Reprot - EnglishChinas Long March To Safe Drinking Water 2015 - CH

  • Drinking Water Safety Faces “The Big Test” – In wake of the upcoming ‘Water Pollution Prevention & Control Action Plan’ China Water Risk & chinadialogue investigated the true status of China’s urban and rural drinking water
  • Consumers Willing to Pay More for Water – Lu Shuping, President of Xylem China, shares key findings of a survey of six Tier 1 & 2 cities. Do consumers understand China’s water crisis? Are they ready pay more for safe drinking water?
Hongqiao Liu
Author: Hongqiao Liu
Hongqiao Liu is a Chinese journalist and policy expert who covers China, climate, energy, environment and everything in between. She currently writes for Carbon Brief, an award-winning specialist website focused on explaining climate science and policy. Hongqiao believes in the power of journalism in fostering informed discussion, decision-making and actions on tackling climate change -- the biggest challenge of our century. Her journalism brings facts, nuance and context to heated discussions about China and provides digestible information on complex policy issues. Her early career as an investigative journalist at Southern Metropolis Daily and Caixin - two of the most prestigious Chinese media - saw her publish a series of influential exposés on social, environmental and governance challenges arising from China’s emergence. Many of her work have triggered public debate, helped foster accountability and sparked critical reform of several national environmental policies in China. She also works as an independent consultant, mostly with international non-profit organisations, advising on strategic planning and policy research. Her clients include some of the most influential advocators for the public good. Hongqiao worked with China Water Risk between 2014 and 2017 as principal researcher.
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