Marketers have successfully tricked us into believing bottled water is better, experts say.
Consumers purchase 1.6 billion bottles of water a year in Queensland alone, a panel discussion at the World Science Festival in Brisbane heard.
Western Sydney University social and cultural theory professor Gay Hawkins, who researches the “rapidly growing” water market, said about 22 per cent of the rubbish collected during annual coastal clean ups was plastic water bottle waste.
“We’re lucky enough in Australia, to live in a country where we have an effective and efficient government, that is obligated to provide us with safe water,” Professor Hawkins said.
“Water is a common resource, it should not be commodified.”
Is bottled water safer?
The panel heard people were often deterred from drinking tap water due to the presence of chemicals, in particular chlorine and fluoride.
Fluoride in drinking water has been an ongoing debate, with some community groups raising concerns about its toxicity in high doses.
Soil and water expert Dr Frederic Leusch said a tap filter would eliminate the Chlorine but could not guarantee its effectiveness with fluoride.
“There’s some evidence that chlorine might not be that healthy. It’s really toxic so one of the suggestions from the Water and Environment Research Foundation in the US is indeed to use a filter,” Dr Leusch said.
He said Australia had a vocal group against fluoride in water but when asked if a filter would remove fluoride he said it would not.
Store-bought water also came in contact with chemicals, and depending on the plastic some chemicals may leach into the water if left sit in the heat for a long time, he said.
“The longer that water sits in the plastic, the more likely it is that chemicals from the plastic will merge into the water,” he said.
Why do we buy bottled water?
While buying a bottle of water is often the more convenient option when tap water is not on-hand, marketing also plays a role in consumers’ decisions to pay, retail expert Gary Mortimer told the panel.
Dr Mortimer said marketers convinced consumers to pay for water.
Using words such as “pure” and “nature’s best”, and displaying snow-capped mountains on packaging changed consumers’ perception of a product, which in reality, could have come straight from the tap, he said.
“As a marketer, I can’t tell you that brand ‘a’ bottle of water will hydrate you any better than brand ‘b’, Mr Mortimer said.
“As a rational consumer you would say ‘well actually, doesn’t the water that comes out of my tap also hydrate me’.”
This story is part of a collaboration for the World Science Festival between QUT and the ABC.