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The Meaning of Clean

Posted by Natalie in Environment - 21 April 2011

I’ve just read that in a drive to boost sales, a bottled water company called Real Water have labelled tap water ‘damaged’ and are claiming that it is harmful to health.  It’s either overwhelmingly stupid or –having made the Guardian and probably a number of other blogs – a brilliant PR trick.  Whether it’s garbage or genius is not the point, because above all it is another example of the irresponsible and irrational capitalist propensity for putting profit before principle, and as usual it’s the environment that bears the brunt of this habitual lack of integrity.

During my MA at King’s we studied a module called Water Resources & Policy. My professor, John Allen, is a respected expert and Water Prize Laureate; what he doesn’t know about water isn’t worth knowing.  He taught us that access to clean water is a miracle of engineering and human ingenuity (I always remember his grimace at our bottled water until we assured him that, of course, they were merely refills from the tap).  Professor Allen hates bottled water because it is superfluous and pointless. Our tap water is clean and perfectly safe. It is so good and so cheap, yet we pay about TEN THOUSAND times more for a bottle of the same stuff.

Did you know that the water you flush your toilet with is the same water that comes out of the kitchen tap? It is totally unnecessary to waste good, clean drinking water on flushing, but we still do it. Why? It might be costly to update the infrastructure but the savings would be seen immediately in the decreased cost of water processing.   The reason is that people feel – rightly of course – that cleanliness and safety go hand in hand.  To start a system that has two different water supplies (drinking and flushing etc.)  might be accepted as the logical solution, but we’re not starting from scratch. Today we have a long-standing system in place, so to ask people to accept the changes is to ask them to switch to a ‘dirtier’ water supply.  Although it is rational, it is rejected because the idea that cleanliness equals health is so important to us that we lose sight of the meaning of clean.

This principle also applies to our attitude towards bottled water, and it is one that the bottled water companies love to exploit.  The notion of fresh spring water straight from the belly of nature and imbued with its goodness is the main selling point of bottled water, yet the irony is that the oil used in making and transporting the bottles is ravaging said nature to breaking point.  The problems with bottled water are well documented, but it is a booming, billion dollar industry. Consumers can change this by simply choosing to drink tap instead of bottled water.  In doing so we’ll be ten thousand times better off, and not just financially.

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3 Responses

  • Lesley says:

    I absolutely agree! We received a leaflet with our water bill in Italy which stated almost the same facts. Here the water is so clean and fresh, why drink anything else? The Italian desire for style must has some effect on the desire for bottled water. The supermarket shelves are stacked with tens of different varieties.
    Hopefully, the fact that the benefits of tap water are being advertised by the water authority will have some effect on the drinking habits of the population!

  • elayne says:

    Totally think people have been brainwashed into believing they are getting something safer by buying bottled water, such a shame. My Nan would spin in her grave if she heard that people paid more for water than they do for petrol! Most I ever paid for a bottle of water was 2.50, shocking!!!! Like your blog a lot! xx

  • Jane says:

    Amoungst our friends, we have started asking in restaurants for tap water. We enjoy the freshest, cleanest tap water and there is absolutely no reason to buy it in bottles. It also amazes me the lengths they will go to to advertise bottled water: I’ve seen nuns, priests, elderly folk, and the most recent is a couple of scantily dressed women testifying to a particular brand – madness.



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