Bottled Water Demand May Be Declining
Bottled Water Demand May Be Declining
The U.S. bottled water
market is slowing down after years of steady growth, suggesting that
international awareness campaigns may be curbing consumer demand.
bottled water continues to expand in global popularity, the U.S. market
is expected to grow 6.7 percent this year, the smallest increase this
decade, according to data collected by the Beverage Marketing
The United States is the largest consumer of
bottled water, but opposition is growing. In the past year, several
restaurants, municipalities, natural food stores, and schools are
deciding to "buy local" - choosing tap water rather than packaged
products - for economic, environmental, or social justice reasons.
water sold in most industrialized countries costs between $500 and
$1,000 per cubic meter, compared to $0.50 for municipal water in states
such as California, according to Pacific Institute President Peter
Gleick. Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of water bottled in the United
States comes from public water supplies, and studies suggest that
bottled water is not always cleaner than tap water. The bottled
products also demand significant amounts of energy to be produced,
packaged, stored, and transported.
While cities recycle about 23
percent of their plastic bottles, some 2 million tons of the bottles
are sent to landfills each year, the Worldwatch Institute reported in
2007. Corporate Accountability International estimates that the annual
cost of disposing of water bottles is $70 million.
concerns are beginning to cause a shift in consumer choices. Following
the lead of U.S. cities such as San Francisco and Salt Lake City, the
majority of the 250 mayors at the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors in
June voted to phase out government use of bottled water when possible.
Bans on selling bottled water at city functions are also being
considered across Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, according
to Deborah Lapidus, the national organizer for Corporate Accountability
International's Think Outside the Bottle Campaign.
the bottled water industry's growth is slowing down," Lapidus said.
"The consumer market is being affected by the fact that cities are
doing these visible water bottle cancellations."
bottled water industry's growth has declined for four years in a row.
But Tom Lauria, vice president of communications for the International
Bottled Water Association, said the advocacy campaigns are not the
cause. "We have enjoyed meteoric growth in the past, but that's bound
to level off," he said.
Since its bottle campaign began in 2006,
Corporate Accountability International estimates that at least 60
cities have phased out or reduced spending on bottled water, and at
least 60 U.S. restaurants have committed to serving tap water in place
of bottled water, according to Mark Hays, the campaign's senior
The beverage industry is responding with increased
lobbying efforts. When the U.S. Conference of Mayors began to consider
discontinuing its bottled water contracts last year, the American
Beverage Association and International Bottled Water Association joined
the Mayors Business Council, according to the council's website. The
paid membership grants industry representatives access to the
conferences. "It's testament to our campaign and the bottled water
movement... because the mayors have held firm and have not been
influenced by this lobbying," Lapidus said.
Children's Food Campaign is accusing the British Softdrinks Association
of perpetuating myths that tap water is unsafe. According to the
campaign, schoolchildren have received educational materials that claim
refilling empty water bottles from the tap is "unsafe" and "can lead to
contamination." Lauria said the industry does not contend that tap
water poses health risks. Rather, the leaflets likely referred to
unhealthy bacteria that often accumulate inside water bottles if the
vessels are improperly cleaned, he said.
Accountability International has also been pressuring beverage
companies Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle to disclose the sources and
quality of their water. Last year, Pepsi announced that the label on
its water product, Aquafina, would reveal that it originates mostly
from purified, public water sources.Â Â
Beverage companies are
responding positively to some environmental concerns. Coca-Cola
announced last year that it would put smaller caps on plastic bottles
that are 24 ounces or smaller. The new cap allowed Coke to reduce its
plastic intake by more than 1.8 million kilograms last year, and
plastic reduction is expected to rise to at least 18 million kilograms
by the end of 2008. The company also plans to recover 90 percent of its
production waste and improve its water use ratio, according to its
Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Report [PDF].
consumption of bottled water reached nearly 189 billion liters last
year alone - a 7.6 percent increase from 2002 - led by growing demand
in China. The United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and Italy lead the world in
per capita consumption, according to the beverage marketing data.