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SA’s bottled water industry doesn’t exacerbate impact of drought

South Africa’s bottled water industry, the third-largest player in South Africa’s non-alcoholic beverage industry yet accounting for only 8.9% of the market, is not exacerbating the impact of the drought currently gripping several areas of the country, including the Western Cape.

This is the message from South African National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA), which answers an emphatic ‘No’ to the question: ‘Is the bottled water industry exacerbating the drought?’

The rationale, put forward by SANBWA executive director, Charlotte Metcalf, lies in several facts and figures.

  • Small volumes compared to the production of the market leaders, daily water consumption

According to BMI 2015 figures, carbonated soft drinks still head the non-alcoholic packaged beverage field with a phenomenal 69.3% of the market.

In second position is ready-to-drink fruit juices at 11.8% and the bottled water industry at 8.9%. The 8.9% includes flavoured and functional waters, which makes the packaged water stakes even smaller.

Further, a presentation by BMI at Propak Cape in October 2017 put the total size of the bottled water industry for 2016 at 502-million litres.

This annual figure is dwarfed by the daily 520-million litres daily target consumption for the City of Cape Town, says Metcalf.

Also, given that less than 10% of all water bottled and sold in South Africa is defined as packaged water but that the entire bottled water industry accounts for only 8.9% of the entire non-alcoholic packaged beverage industry, just under 1% (0.89%) of non-alcoholic packaged beverages sold in South Africa is prepared water, or water which could come from a municipal system.

Bottled water – which is defined in South Africa as ‘water packaged for human consumption’ and it is therefore classified as a foodstuff and overseen by the Department of Health whereas municipal or ‘tap water’ is classed as ‘drinking water’ and therefore needs to comply with public water supply regulations – doesn’t compete with tap water for share of throat.

Instead, its competitors are other products in the non-alcoholic packaged beverage category such fruit juices and carbonated soft drinks as well as dilutables (which had 3.7% of the market in 2015), energy drinks (2.8%), mageu (1.7%), sports drinks (1.1%) and iced teas (0.9%). 

  • Use of independent water sources

More than 90% of packaged waters in South Africa are either natural water or water defined by origin. This means that 90% of the industry is water sourced from underground sustainable sources or springs. SANBWA members’ sources are independent of other water users, thus the impact on South Africa’s ground water resource is nil.

Since no water from any of these sources enters the municipal system, the fact that these sources are used for bottled water has no impact at all on the amount of water South Africa’s municipalities and Government departments have available to distribute.

  • Protected and sustainable sources

SANBWA members are required to formally address and maintain a hydro-geological report, source vulnerability and sustainability report.

This ensures that the source yield is never exceeded or over-pumped. Another legal requirement is to adhere to water extraction limits provided by a license from the department of water affairs.

Additionally, SANBWA’s members, which represent about 80% of the total industry, all subscribe to SANBWA’s environmental policy. This covers four critical areas:

  • 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.
  • Low water usage

Another point to bear in mind, according to Metcalf, is that the bottled water industry doesn’t have a large water footprint.

This is a concept that evaluates the amount of water needed to produce an item of consumption. For example (excluding the packaging of these goods):

  • the production of 1 kg of beef requires 16 000 litres of water
  • the production of one cup of coffee needs 140 litres of water

Figures published by, show that 1 kg of maize requires 900 litres of water to produce, one cup of coffee needs 140 litres of water and to produce 1 sheet of A4 paper requires 10 litres of water.

This source says that it requires just 1.8 litres to make a 1 litre bottle of water.

In South Africa, the water usage figure for bottled water plants is typically 1.6:1 for one-way packaging. This means that, for every litre of water bottled, 600 ml is used for the cleaning and sanitation of plant and equipment, flushing toilets etc.

There are, however, plants that achieve ratios of as low as 1.2:1. Figures out of the US show that there, on average, only 1.32 litres of water (including the litre of water consumed) is used.

Put another way, the South African bottled water industry (natural, waters defined by origin and prepared) uses 25.6 litres/second.

By comparison, a golf course uses 1 litre/second per hole or 18 litres/second for an 18-hole golf course – so the total South African bottled water industry’s use is equivalent to 1.4 golf courses.

The fruit export industry uses 0.5 litres/second/hectare making the total South African bottled water industry’s use equivalent to that of just one 51 hectare farm.

Source: SANBWA