Over 1 million water bottles are sold worldwide every minute. This figure was revealed in a report titled “Global Bottled Water Industry: A Review of Impacts and Trends,” published on 16 March 2023 by the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH). “The rise in bottled water consumption reflects decades of limited progress in and many failures of public water supply systems,” said Kaveh Madani, the new director of UNU-INWEH, in a statement regarding the report’s release.
The rise of bottled water consumption
According to the UNU-INWEH report, 350 billion litres of bottled water were sold globally in 2021. This market, valued at nearly 270 billion US dollars, has seen one of the world’s fastest growth rates, rising by 73 per cent during the ten years up to 2021. Since 2021, the market has seen a compound annual growth rate of 5.2 per cent, and it is projected to reach $500 billion by 2025–2030, with an even higher growth rate amounting to around 7 per cent.
From the report, it emerged that the United States, China, and Indonesia are the world’s largest consumers of bottled water, with their markets being worth approximately $64 billion, $50 billion, and $22 billion respectively. These countries represent almost 40 per cent of the global volume.
What is driving this growth?
According to the report, local and multinational companies play a significant role in the sector, with more than 70 per cent of bottled water being produced in situ and transported on a regional scale. A mere 12 major corporations – including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Nestlé – account for 37.8 per cent of the global market, with smaller companies taking up a 62.2 per cent share.
According to the UNU-INWEH report, the growth of this market varies across high-income countries and mid and low-income ones. Health and taste concerns, marketing, and convenience are the primary market drivers in the Global North. Instead, the use of bottled water is associated with low tap water quality and frequently unreliable public water supply systems in mid and low-income nations.
Is bottled water actually safer?
The report highlighted the lack of strict controls on the quality of bottled water. “Bottled water is generally not nearly as well-regulated and is tested less frequently and for fewer parameters. Strict water quality standards for tap water are rarely applied to bottled water, and even if such analyses are carried out, the results seldom make it to the public domain,” said Vladimir Smakhtin, the report’s co-author and former director of UNU-INWEH.
The UNU-INWEH report also contains reported cases of bottled water contamination from peer-reviewed journals on academic databases. These data contrast the widespread notion that this kind of water is unquestionably safe.“This review constitutes strong evidence against the misleading perception that bottled water is an unquestionably safe drinking water source,” said UNU-INWEH researcher and lead author Zeineb Bouhlel.
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