Sunday, 12 July 2009

bottled water ban - but lose the message?

Water is one of my favourite topics. I did my masters research in the area and it is something I am passionate about. Wasting water and wasting our resources is something I feel strongly about.

I've found in the last ten years of research that the public feels strongly about water too (especially with the droughts of recent times highlighting this). But while there is often a lot of passion in this debate there is seldom a sense of objective reality and comprehension of the scale.

People seem to mind the pennies yet loose all of the pounds.

With this in mind, I was reading about this bottled water ban and wondered just why it is that people seem to be so engaged by trying to make a difference on things which really don't make a difference (in the big picture).

Even NSW state premier is willing to banter around strange isolated statistics

It was the first step in a government campaign to significantly reduce the consumption of bottled water in the community, Mr Rees said.

"It's not just the direct plastic bottle that causes the physical reality in our local environment"
... "Bear this in mind, you take a 600ml plastic bottle, 200ml of oil has gone into its production.That's leaving aside the C02 that comes from transporting it around the place.''

Sure, bottled water seems silly when we have good water in the tap (and do we?) ... but before we examine what point, lets look at a few basic facts here first to give some perspective:

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics:

7,459 L of water is needed per dollar sale of Rice (in the husk) .

Yes, you read that right, SEVEN THOUSAND LITERS OF WATER is used in providing the conditions in Australia for growing rice which then sells for a buck.

So before getting rilled up at the bottled water on the table, how about the rice under your curry?

Do you think I'll stop eating rice? Not really ... but then I buy mine imported from asian countries where they normally grow the stuff and have climates more suited to growing it.

According to another report by the Bureau of Statistics "rice production returned the lowest gross value/ML water used of $189 per million Litres". So its not even patriotic to be eating Australian rice.

To compare this with other products embodied water contents of the following products we find :

Wine 503 liters per dollar
Beef products 381 liters per dollar
Vegetables and fruit 103 liters per dollar
Clothing 90 liters per dollar
Paper products 30 liters per dollar

So when you start to look carefully about , bottled water looks quite a lame culprit doesn't it ...

While this issue does begin to make sense in the context of the attempts of some small town to save their water from some company exploitation, it does not answer why the NSW State Government is so quick to follow up with bans at state and perhaps National levels. According to this report Mr Garret (0ur environment minister) says:
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said state governments should consider banning bottled water from their departments - following NSW Premier Nathan Rees' lead.

Why? Heck, if its sucking water up out of the ground and putting it into plastic bottles that worries you, what about all the sweetened soft drinks ... I bet they're bigger sellers anyway!

So rather than picking political winners how (desalination plant on the Gold Coast anyone?) how about letting the freem market have its way, not to mention having a good look at the facts before putting political muscle behind some movement and snowballing it.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2002). The influence of lifestyles on environmental pressure. Retrieved 20 May 2004

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2004, 18 March 2005). Australians Use More Than 1 Million Litres of Fresh Water Per Person Each Year. Retrieved 1 April 2005

1 comment:

Cameron Murray said...

"just why it is that people seem to be so engaged by trying to make a difference on things which really don't make a difference (in the big picture)"

I have no answer. Doing something makes us feel good, and we don't have to make any sacrifice - it feels win-win.