From: Eifion Rees, The Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published April 4, 2012 06:41 AM

Bottled water industry wages PR battle against tap water

Bottled water is the totemic bĂȘte noire of the environmental world, a multibillion-dollar industry that takes what in the west is clean and readily available from the tap, packages it up in non-biodegradable plastic and sells it back to consumers at hugely inflated prices.

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And yet sales continue to rise. In 2010, more than 2bn litres were consumed in the UK — 33 litres per person, a figure projected to rise to 40 litres by 2020. More than 40bn litres were sold last year in the US, in plastic bottles it took 17m barrels of oil to manufacture; the industry there is worth $22 billion a year and sales are increasing at a rate of 5.4 per cent annually.

The strong growth is down to an aggressive marketing campaign by companies fighting to purify a product that — clear mountain spring water notwithstanding — has been tainted by accusations that it is unnecessary, wasteful and environmentally costly.

Last month, the Natural Hydration Council (NHC) — an industry body formed by the UK’s three biggest hitters: Nestlé Waters (makers of Buxton, Perrier and San Pellegrino), Danone Waters (Evian and Volvic) and Highland Spring — handed its lucrative six-figure public relations account to Pegasus PR, whose clients include Pfizer and Bayer.

The NHC was formed in 2008 to prevent declining sales: 2,240m litres of bottled water were drunk in 2006, 2,125m in 2007 and 2,005m in 2008. Price, negative blind tastings (consumers prefer tap or perceive no difference) and campaigns such as those run by London’s Evening Standard, to encourage people to ask for tap water in restaurants, all played their part.

Bottled water drinkers  via Shutterstock.

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