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The manufacture of bottled water began in Europe in the 1970s. This was because tap water was considered unsafe after the industrial revolution. Its market grew rapidly in the1990s when it became a business venture.
Marketers and advertisers promoted it as a symbol of status. Celebrities were seen drinking bottled water during their interviews, concerts, and shows, hence, this further increased its prestige.
Moreover, it was used to demonstrate a healthy image. Marketers targeted young people in the gym and sports facilities. Over the years, its consumption has increased making it a household good.
It is the fastest selling non- alcoholic beverage according to Doria ( 2006). Different brands have emerged, making its market segment extremely competitive.
Similarly, many multinational companies have been created. They extract water from aquifers and springs, package and sell at a competitive price. Some of the leading bottlers include; Fiji Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani among others.
The ethics of supplying bottled water have been debated for a long time. Perhaps, this is because water, as a public good has been converted into a private good. Various researchers on the topic, have outlined critical issues facing bottled water.
Brei and Bohm (2011) indicate that some communities in the world have no reliable water supply, thus, the consumption of bottled water seems socially unjust. Besides, processing and transporting of bottled water consumes a lot of energy.
This energy can be used wisely in other fields of development. Also, crude Oil, a health hazard, is used to make the containers used to transport water, hence; this poses a serious health and environmental issue.
In addition, the composition of bottled water has been questioned. According to Brooks et al (2009), a brand of the coca-cola company was accused of containing high levels of bromate (2009).
Consequently, it was labeled ‘cancer water’ because bromate enhances cancer. Disposing bottled water containers in a sound way poses a challenge. Consumers dispose water containers carelessly.
These containers can be found in social areas and other open spaces. On the other hand, bottled water is convenient. It is easy to carry around, and it can be found in almost all the stores.
This paper focuses on the ethics of bottled water by evaluating its effect on water supply and the environment. Furthermore, it examines the ethical effects transforming a public-sector good into a private-sector good.
Water is a public good. This means that it is nonexclusive. The rivers and lakes are national goods while the municipal water systems are communal-public goods.
Private supply of such a good is costly because beneficiaries will have to be excluded from enjoying the good. Excluding individuals requires bottlers to process and package it.
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This process consumes energy in a world where energy is limited. The bottled water culture has caused increased spending on a commodity that should be provided freely.
In the past, utility companies and public agencies controlled the market, presently; multinational corporations have privatized water systems for their own benefits.
Bottlers are purchasing rights to groundwater distribution channels (Brei and Bohm, 2011). This action makes water, a basic human right into a private commodity.
The public is denied access to clean and safe water. Bottled water shifts the attention of the public from the public systems and municipal treatment plants.
As a result, the community fails to provide accountability on water issues. In the end, the municipality will have little incentive to improve water infrastructure because they lack support.
Consequently, the problem of bottled water will increase because consumers will lose faith in tap water. This problem is made worse when the majority can afford bottled water. In the event that the quality of municipal water decreases, the minority are prone suffer.
Cost of Bottled Water
Bottled water is expensive to produce. Gleick and Cooley in their article “Energy Implications of Bottled Water” claim that it requires 2000 times more energy compared to tap water (2009).
Water bottles are made from a thermoplastic polymer. The material used contains energy, and more energy is used to transform the material into bottles (Gleick and Cooley, 2009).
Bottled water requires energy to run the machinery and equipments used for processing and packaging. The primary source of bottled water is municipal water or groundwater.
Municipal water can either be bottled without further treatment or bottled after further treatment. Further purification of water requires energy (Gleick and Cooley, 2009).
Besides this, energy is required to transport bottled water and refrigerate it before it is sold. This further depletes the limited fossil fuel available globally. For example, Fiji water supplies millions of bottled water to the United States daily.
The cost of transport is reflected in the final cost. According to Gleick and Cooley, production of water bottles consumes over 50 million barrels of oil in a year.
This oil is enough to supply the needs of the United States for almost three days. Apart from the cost of energy, bottled water hinders development, thereby costing the community.
In some regions, individuals work in water companies to produce water for other countries. However, in their homes, the water they consume is not clean.
For example, Fiji supplies over a million bottles of water to the United States daily. Nevertheless, most people in the Fiji struggle to obtain clean water.
Environmental Effects of Bottled Water
Bottled water disposal has presented a crucial waste management problem. Thousands of plastic bottles are carelessly disposed by consumers every day. Out of these, a small percentage is recycled while the rest is disposed in landfills.
To make it worse, some of these containers end up in rivers, lakes and other water bodies. Water bottles do not attract the deposit for recycling offered to soda and beer bottles (Brooks et al., 2009).
Disposal of plastic bottles pollutes the soil because the chemical composition of plastic takes years to decompose. If these bottles are burnt, the chemicals released into the air cause pollution.
Similarly, when exposed to high temperatures, these containers release harmful substances. When these chemicals are released into the ecosystem, they cause cardiovascular and gastrointestinal ailments to human beings. Consequently, the chemicals released such as dioxin, contribute to acid rain and global warming.
Convenience of Bottled Water
Although bottled water poses waste management challenges, it is exceptionally convenient. Distributors view that transporting small bottles are convenient, as opposed to bulk containers.
In addition, consumers consider it pure compared to tap water. Tap water may be pure at the water plants, but after passing through distribution pipes, the water becomes contaminated.
Besides, tap water is associated with bad taste and odor (Doria, 2006). Doria in his article “Bottled Water Versus Tap Water: Understanding Consumers’ Preferences” asserts that consumers prefer bottled water because of its ‘organoleptic’ characteristics (2006).
Consumers also consider the fact that if contamination is discovered; the bottler will act more efficiently than the government in neutralizing the problem. Purity and contamination are not the only convenient facts about bottled water. Doria (2006) notes bottled water saves time and energy.
Buying water indicates that consumers have less time to fill their own containers (Brei and Bohm, 2011). The availability of bottled water allows consumers to buy water when they need it. It saves them from carrying a container of water everywhere. Moreover, the consumer can dispose the container after consuming the water.
Solutions to Bottled Water Problems
The cost of bottled water, by a larger degree outweighs its benefits making it a problem. Bottlers and producers of bottled water do not consider the cost of disposing the containers.
This means that the taxpayer has to cover these costs (Brei and Bohm, 2011). One solution to this problem is to order the bottlers to pay for the cost of disposal.
Given that pollution taxes will reflect on the consumer price, the price of bottled water will increase while the demand decrease. With less people buying bottled water, the environmental effect will reduce.
Secondly, water containers can be washed and re-used again to ease pollution. Thirdly, bottlers can use local facilities for production instead of transporting water from far- away locations.
This will reduce the price of bottled water and the amount of energy used for transportation. As a public good, government and local institutions can deal with bottled water by defining limits between what is viewed as public or private.
This means that companies will no longer have to extract water from springs or aquifers and sell. In addition, the government should set sanctions for companies which violate these rules (Brei and Bohm, 2011).
For this to work, the government needs the cooperation and participation of the public. However, rather than trying to reduce the problem of bottled water, public water should be made clean.
The government and policy makers should replace old pipes and modernize public water plants. This will ensure consumers drink clean, affordable water. If tap water is safe, then bottled water will only be a luxury.
Bottled water may be cheap and convenient, but in the long run, it has a high environmental cost. Its consumption of energy is 2000 times that of tap water. Moreover, its disposal causes water, soil, and water pollution.
Plastic containers end up in landfills where the bottles take up space, since the material used for their production is not biodegradable. However, despite its energy and environmental implications, bottled water is seen as socially unethical.
This is because bottled water turns a public good into a private commodity. As a social good, water should be available to everyone instead of being sold at high prices.
The other reason that makes bottled water unethical is when it is sold to communities who lack a dependable source of water. For example, some communities in Africa face famine yet water are sold in other regions of the same country.
In my opinion, it is wrong to sell water while people are drying. It is also unethical to sell water because it is a human right and not a good sold to individuals who have the money to buy it.
The assumption that bottled water is purer is not necessarily true. According to Doria (2006), this assumption should not be generalized because it depends on salient cases. For this reason, tap water is socially, environmentally and morally ethical as opposed to bottled water.
Brei, V., & Bohm, S. (2011). Corporate Social Responsibility as cultural meaning management: A Critique of the Marketing of “ethical” Bottled Water. Business Ethics: A European Review, 20 (3), 233-252. Doi: 10.1111/j. 1467-8608.2011.01626. x
Brooks, B. W., Cox, S. M., & Anderson, S. (2009). Cancer Water. Journal of Critical Incidents, 230-37. Retrieved from https://www.mendeley.com/?interaction_required=true
Doria, M. (2006). Bottled Water versus Tap Water: Understanding Consumers’ Preferences. Journal of Water and Health, 271-276. Retrieved from https://iwaponline.com/jwh/article/4/2/271/1581/Bottled-water-versus-tap-water-understanding?searchresult=1
Gleick, P. & Cooley, H. (2009). Energy Implications of Bottled Water. Environmental Research Letter, (8). doi :10.1088/1748-9326/4/1/014009