Fossil fuels are the bottled water of energy

There’s a tidy little metaphor at the Huffington Post describing fossil fuels as the bottled water of energy because of the energy and water it takes to manufacture, ship and discard the product.It gives three reasons:

  1. Like bottled water, fossil fuels are mined from countries around the world, processed, shipped and then, finally, consumed. This process is wasteful and contributes to environmental degradation…
  2. Like tap water, renewable energy is best harnessed locally or regionally… Now that the costs–economic and social–of fossil fuels have skyrocketed, the logic of a global energy supply chain falls apart…
  3. Bottled water and bottled energy both create the false impression that when we run low on essential natural resources we can simply head down to the local store and buy some more…

And of course the other thing they have in common is the propensity to label everyday, freely available things with corporate brands and claim a price premium. (Is Shell petrol more or less different to BP petrol than H2Go water is from Antipodes water?)

Some believe that given the looming water crisis we will soon see tankers full of water instead of oil crossing the seas, heading toward arid countries. That, obviously, would perpetuate the problems currently caused by fossil fuels. Before we get to that point, a new emphasis must be placed on understanding, harnessing, managing and protecting local supplies of water and energy.

As an aside, ACC’s Activesmart website notes:

Kiwis are guzzling around 36 million litres of bottled water a year. That’s nine litres each per year, and that intake is over and above everything else we throw back – coffee, tea, milk, juice, soft drinks and alcohol…

According to AC Nielsen there are 126 types of bottled water on New Zealand shelves. That includes sparkling, mineral, distilled, purified, sports and flavoured waters, of which there are at least ten different brands.

And Healthy Food notes:

Believe it or not, people around the world drank 187 billion litres of bottled water in 2006. Our global appetite for bottled water more than doubled between 1997 and 2005.

While water is a healthy drink, the trend towards bottled water comes at a cost to the environment. It takes huge amounts of energy to produce plastic bottles, mostly from fossil fuels. Factor in the transportation of the water – thousands of kilometres if you’re buying imported water – and the fact that much of our plastic in NZ has to be exported to Australia or China to be recycled, and that healthy portable drink can be quite costly… Even in places where tap water is safe and healthy, bottled water can cost up to 10,000 times more than tap water! Some common bottled waters in NZ cost more than petrol per litre.

That last statistic is not so surprising really when you think of the amount of oil it takes to make and deliver bottled water to your local dairy fridge.

11 Comments Posted

  1. bigblukiwi – your name could easily be used to sell bottled water!
    I agree with your sentiment. School children across the country have been encouraged to sip water from bottles during class (being hydrated is good for brain function) by perversely, they are now ingesting the phenyls etc. from the plastic bottles. The way through this new problem is probably the same as when the idea of water=good learning, that is, through information and education.

  2. As a child I drank rain water collected in a galvanized iron tank unfiltered – as an adult I have drunk many kinds of ‘tap’ water, some fluoridated & some not – since being here I have drunk bore water, unfiltered, & I am still going strong. I never carry a water bottle, because it’s a drag & am never far from a water source wherever I am. This bottled water business is a blot on all our landscapes & should be taxed out of existence.

  3. Me, the only reason I could see to buy a bottle of water would be because it is refridgerated. I typically buy a large bottle, and then refill it with water that has gone through my water filter; and then refridgerate, drink and then reuse until I have used it for about a year or so, and then I get a fresh one.

    The thing that put me off tap water was concerns that there is ostrogen in it, and that it had been causing problems for males.

  4. i agree with eredwen, canetrbury has BEAUTIFUL water and yet you see people at supermarkets piling up their trollies with plastic bottles full of it. Don’t get me started !
    mainly i think its WANKY – are these people heading out to the gobi desert or something ? how far away from a tap are we most of the time ?
    and don’t get me started on the number of ‘healthy’ water bottle buyers who then biff their effing bottles onto roadsides etc.
    i feel like weeping when i think about the millions of plastic bottles used worldwide every day to deliver WATER to people who behave as if they’re going to dry up and snap if they don’t have a constant supply of water on them- what did people used to do before this obscene craze started ? did we used to have hundreds of deaths from dehydration every year in NZ ?

  5. Another reason not to buy plastic packaged water is that the chemicals in the plastic are not very good for us. They are not designed to be reused. That is why we choose to use glass or one variation of polycarbonate to use for portable drinking water.

  6. libertyscott, good point!

    However, why not take your EMPTY water container with you when travelling, (or pick up one of the many once-used discarded ones and wash it)?

    I take water with me (in my trusty “Grolsch Beer” glass bottle with ceramic flip-top attached) … a bigger one for the car and a smaller one to carry.

    They remind me of former times here, and of Europe, and the countries that have NOT blindly discarded good systems in the name of “progress” (with all the dross that accompanies that word).

    I grew up in a time when bottles were standard sizes and returnable to local depots for exchange and reuse (not smashing).
    Sooner or later we will need to “look back to see the future” if we are to adapt to the times ahead.

  7. I have always found it amazing that people will pay money for “bottled” water (some of it imported) in Christchurch / Canterbury, when the local (artesian) tap water is pure and has required no treatment for generations.

    Mind you, now, with the changes in use of the Canterbury Plains, the aquifers that contain this “sustainable treasure” are (mindlessly) under threat from over-extraction … in the name of “progress” and “competition” and “growth”.

    So many are now so busy looking overseas to find “economic opportunities” to copy, that they are forgetting (or possibly never heard!) the song that says …

    “Don’t it always seem to go …
    that you don’t know what you got till its gone … “

  8. Yes, people buy bottled water – for many reasons, such as convenience when exercising, or travel. Though in NZ I would buy a bottle, refill it maybe 10-15 times then throw it away. My most frequent purchase of water is airside at airports, because you can’t take your own with you.

  9. One reason for the boom in bottled water is that chemophobes have persuaded so many people that tap water is dangerous because of chlorine and fluoride.

    Most bottled water is promoted as “natural” whereas it also has to be treated to stop sludge developing. My tank water is microfiltered but if a fill a bottle with it and let it stand it soon goes turbid. I guess it won’t be long before someone puts “organic” on the label.

    The big difference between the oil companies and the bottled water companies is that the oil companies add massive value to their raw product and yet manage to sell it for less that a bottle of local bottled water.
    They are hardly in the same camp.

  10. Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt wants to abandon the grubby rivers of Southland, saying that they are too dirty to drink from (he graphically refers to ‘the turds of Winton’ in his description of the source of the city’s drinking water) and instead, pipe pure water from a far away lake. This view (import from afar, rather than solve the problem locally) needs to be challenged at all levels. Can you drink from your local river? If not, why not? It’s a challenge for every New Zealander.

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