Water… water…in every bottle | Sunday Observer

Water… water…in every bottle

15 November, 2020

Young boys and girls ambling to school and office workers travelling in buses and trains can be seen with bottles of water. Some of them carry ordinary bottles filled with tap water while others take plastic bottled water. Some of them may not know that bottled water has become a booming industry worldwide.

I had a friend who always carried bottled water wherever he travelled. He used to say, “Water is the essence of life.” He always drank bottled water to remain healthy. However, he was taking treatment for various ailments. Nobody knows whether bottled water was the cause of such diseases. At restaurants and hotels in the city you are served with bottled water as if they are concerned about your health. In fashionable hotels in the West there is a water bar with some 100 selections. Bottled water manufacturers seem to be competing with wine.

Wine is a form of manmade liquor. Grapes are crushed and processed to produce wine. But water is something which falls from heaven. The water eventually runs down streams, canals and rivers. People make reservoirs to collect rain water for drinking and irrigation purposes. In cities water is collected in tanks, purified and distributed through a network of pipes to the people. Once a minister claimed that tap water is safer than bottled water. Even a magazine published in England found that tap water from the Thames tasted better than some bottled waters which were 400 times more expensive than tap water.

Dubious labels

The Central Bus Stand in Colombo is full of vendors who sell bottled water which carries dubious labels and sources. Some people complain that the bottles contain only tap water. As the authorities have not tested or tasted the water in such bottles we never know whether it is tap water or water coming from the Beira Lake.

In cities such as New York and Paris, there are more than 700 brands of bottled H2O. In the United States Eau de Bouteille has reached a high-water mark. Even some leading companies in Sri Lanka depend heavily on bottled water. Some companies deliver bottled water to houses and business establishments on a regular basis. In the United States and Europe more and more people have been drinking bottled water. In the United States alone 50 per cent of the people drink bottled water. The sales are growing about 10 per cent a year according to a recent survey. Whether you believe it or not, bottled water is selling faster than any other beverage.

The situation is quite different in Sri Lanka and neighbouring India. Even in cities all the people do not drink bottled water as it is quite expensive. In villages people still drink water drawn from wells and other water sources. In most villages in India water is scarce and people consider it as something sacred.

Market leader

The bottled water industry in the United States is estimated at $8 billion and it remains the market leader in the world. But some rich people still prefer bottled water produced in France. According to market analysts, bottled water is likely to overtake coffee to become the second most consumed beverage. Soft drinks still remain the first choice.

There are many reasons for people to drink bottled water. The most important reason is safety. There are many water-borne diseases such as dysentery. And to avoid them, people drink bottled water. In developed countries there are many regulatory quality standards that apply to bottled water. It is questionable whether such stringent measures are adopted in developing countries.

Those who drink bottled water are conscious about its health benefits. For instance, a 150-millilitre glass of wine contains 400 kilojoules, but bottled water is a kilojoule-free beverage. Today, expensive bottled water is fortified with nutritive trimmings such as calcium, vitamins and vegetable extracts and is called ‘Water Salad.’ In bottled water produced by leading companies there is a high-octane blend of potassium, calcium and magnesium. Such nutritive supplements are not found in ordinary tap water. However, it is questionable whether such nutritive supplements offer any real health benefits to consumers. Although there is no scientific proof about health benefits, consumers still prefer bottled water to tap water.


In industrialised countries water may contain certain chemicals which act on soap to form a scum. If water comes from a limestone area, some rock is dissolved in water and this makes it hard. But hard water can be treated to remove unwanted chemicals. In the home small amounts of washing soda or borax can be added. At large water softening plants which serve a community the water is filtered through a mineral called zeolite which removes the chemicals.

Village folk usually boil the water before drinking. Boiling can destroy the bacteria found in water but it cannot remove the chemicals. However, this is the oldest method of purifying water. Boiling is sufficient if the village is situated away from an industrial city. As poor villagers cannot afford to buy bottled water or water filters, the government has to supply them with filtered water at a nominal cost.

Where do you find the purest water in the world? According to Filip Wretman who was the first water sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton, the purest water is found in the Norwegian artesian water Voss. The water is taken from a virgin aquifer (a very clean underground well) and bottled before it is sullied by exposure to the air. Voss is said to be the number one nonalcoholic pick of Madonna who refuses to stay at hotels that do not stock it. Even the bottle was designed by none other than Calvin Klein.

More hints

Wretman gives some more hints on bottled water. He says a slightly chilled bottle of San Pellegrino would be an ideal choice. He also recommends Fiji water that comes from rain that fell 450 years ago on the pristine South Pacific Island. Finally, he wants you to try Perrier with your cheese or chocolate soufflé. However, there are many other brands you can try if you happen to visit the United States or European countries. King Island Cloud Juice guarantees 4,875 drops of Tasmanian rainwater per 375-millilitre bottle. Lurisia is melted Italian snow water that seeps through a volcanic rock. Chatledon that comes from a village in Auvergne has no taste. Iceberg water is harvested from huge icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland.

Arthur von Wiesenberger is a water critic known as ‘Water Master’ He is the author of four books including Oasis: The Complete Guide to Bottled Water throughout the World. He says plain old tap water is not that bad. New York City’s Municipal water has been dubbed the champagne of tap water which is known for its purity and taste.

There is a battle for market share between soft drink manufacturers and bottled water companies. It is no longer a secret that 25 per cent of bottled water comes from tap water. Even well-known soft drink producers use more purified tap water than spring water.

Nagging desire

Although we are aware of the sources of bottled water and how it is marketed, we have a nagging desire that we should drink more bottled water than tap water. This may be due to the fact that we are more health conscious than others. And when we drink bottled water we appear more cultivated and cultured than others who do not do so. A diehard Marxist tells me that our desire for bottled water comes from a wellspring of capitalism whose source is deep in our culture.

A court doctor is said to have presented Chartledon water to King Louis XIV promising it would “cure His Majesty sometimes, often alleviate his distress, and comfort him always.” Bottled water companies seem to be giving us the same prescription!

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