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bottled water

SA’s bottled water industry is a low water user

Weaver argues that the total bottled water industry in South Africa uses less water than just one-and-a-half golf courses.

“The South African national usage of water by the bottled water industry equates to 22.7 litres/second,” he says. “By comparison, a golf course uses 1 litre/second per hole or 18 litres/second for an 18 hole golf course – so the bottled water industry’s use is just slightly more than the equivalent used by one golf course.

“Another comparison is that of the fruit export industry. This uses 0.5 litres/second/hectare making the bottled water industry’s use equivalent to that of just one 45 hectare farm.

“The total water consumption by our bottled water industry (production volumes plus incidental use) last year was 0.72 million m3. This equates to only 0.013% of the country’s total groundwater usage; hardly a threat.”

Weaver adds that bottled water production in South Africa is a very water efficient business in that it has an extremely low ‘water usage’ factor.

“The term ‘water usage’ refers to how much water is used (volume) to make a finished product. This measure – sometimes called ‘water footprint’- includes both direct and indirect water usage (water for rinsing and sanitising bottles, plant and general cleaning and sanitation, vehicle washing, floor washing, toilets etc.) and includes water from boreholes and municipal source.

“The South African industry benchmark is 1.8:1, and there are plants that achieve ratios of as low as 1.2:1 – 1.4:1.

“All our members, which represent about 80% of the total industry, also subscribe to our environmental policy. This covers covers four critical areas:

Water: Ensuring effective water management from source to shelf, including requirements for source protection, efficient water usage and responsible effluent practices.
Solid waste: Reducing, re-using, recycling all solids involved in the production and distribution of their products.
Energy: Promoting the efficient use of energy and fuels.
Post-distribution recycling: Supporting municipal and consumer initiatives for recycling packaging and bottles.

“Even despite SANBWA members’ commitment to good environmental stewardship and despite its low water usage figures, some still argue that the bottled water industry is an illogical use of the country’s scarce resources.”

Dr Anthony Turton, a scientist specialising in water management as a strategic issue and a declared ‘greenie’, maintains that the bottled water industry plays a key and growing role in a dual-stream reticulation economy.

“Increasingly, high quality drinking water will be provided to willing consumers in bottles at a premium price. Two types of bottled water will emerge: natural water of a pristine quality sourced from protected aquifers; and manufactured water of a good quality sourced from local municipal supplies of a deteriorating infrastructure nature. Each will increasingly share a niche of specific markets.

“This will be increasingly contested as a sub-set of a larger debate about the benefits of a capitalist system for a growing majority of ‘victims’ of that system. The challenge of the bottled water industry will be to understand the natural tensions and concerns and address these in a responsible and proactive manner,” he says.


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