In most countries, including most Pacific island Countries, safe treated water, where it is available, costs the customer the equivalent of no more than a dollar or two per cubic metre. Desalinated water costs much more, depending on the economies of scale. For many developed countries it is often much less than double the cost of conventional water treatment. In the Pacific, where these economies of scale are not generally available, desalinated water can cost well over seven to twenty dollars a cube to produce, without even considering infrastructure, intakes and distribution costs.
That is expensive. Very. So consider this: Bottled water costs you $2,000 to $12,000 or more per cube.
I base this statement on the cheapest price I have found here in Fiji, of .99c for a 500ml bottle. That is roughly $2,000 per cubic metre.
In Palau I bought a 500ml bottle for $1.25 US. There was nothing wrong with the water in my hotel, I wanted the bottle. My colleague shopped around and bought the same bottle for .50c. That is “only” $1,000 US per cube – still a lot of money, though I was paying a lot more at $2,500 US.
The usual price in a nightclub here, for Fiji Water, is $2.50 for 500ml. That is $5,000 a cubic metre.
At $6 for a 750 ml bottle of water in a restaurant, the cost per cube is $8,666.66
The 12K price I mentioned is based on $6 for half a litre in a resort I visited. Since then I have found some even more expensive water. Fancy labels of some bottled waters are selling here for as much as $7.99 for 350ml. That is around $22,800 per cube! Extortionate.
There is some argument for having bottled water available, even apart from emergency supplies. There may be some circumstances in which it is practical or even necessary to use bottled water. Hospitals, maybe, or in areas where water is unsafe or happens to be aesthetically unacceptable (tastes horrible). BUT. The price should reflect the real cost.
For most countries where water is treated and distributed there is no need for bottled water. Apart from their horrendous exploitation of gullible fools who believe the myth that normally treated water is unsafe, or that bottled is “healthier”, bottled water manufacturers are also making a major contribution to environmental problems, and to the carbon footprint of society. Consider how far water is transported. I saw Fiji water for sale in Guam and Hawaii. Evian, Perrier and others have global markets.
Disposable plastic water bottles account for 500,000 tonnes of rubbish every year in the UK, according to the Guardian. Americans alone throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour according to the Clean Air Council.
Plastic bottles are non-biodegradable, and estimates of how long they will remain in the environment start at a hundred years and range up over a thousand. (reference).
In general, bottled water is a bad idea. In most countries good old tap water is quite safe to drink. The chemicals in it are NOT harmful, and are in fact useful.
In countries where tap water is not always safe, or available, it is cheaper and more sensible to boil and/or filter it, than to spend this kind of money on bottled. There are better ways to invest in water than paying extortionate prices for small amounts.
The World Health Organization states there are no health advantages from bottled water. In fact a recent paper, as part of the drinking water guidelines review, suggests that where water has been demineralised, there may actually be some health risks to some populations if they rely on the bottled water. (need citation).
Basically, there is NO DIFFERENCE between treated and bottled water. Many brands of bottled water ARE tap water, filled from municipal sources.
Even if the water is sourced from some pristine spring high in the mountains of Fiji, or Carpathia, or the Southern Alps, consider the carbon footprint. Water pumped, carted, filtered, and transported from some distant location and distributed though shops is totally unnecessary. Buy an aluminium canteen, fill it from the tap, refrigerate it, and carry it with you in an insulated bag.
If you simply must buy bottled water, at least buy a local product and encourage the supplier to use one of the new biodegradable plastics formulated from starch, and request a reasonable price for a more reasonable and sustainable profit margin.
Some water manufacturers support local charitable causes. That is very commendable. But maybe they can afford to, with profit margins like that.