The environment minister should get his facts straight before trying to urge consumers to ditch bottled water for tap water
On Monday, environment minister Phil Woolas will tell Panorama viewers that bottled water is "daft" and "morally unacceptable".
Does that mean the people who buy it are daft and morally unacceptable too? What about the 20,000 people who rely on bottled water for their jobs? Or indeed the government, which was so desperate for bottled water supplies during last year's floods that it called on the industry to help out, which it immediately did? The minister obviously has a short memory, which rather makes him sound like the daft one.
Unfortunately, the latest diatribe against bottled water comes as no surprise to the Bottled Water Information Office. Despite writing to Woolas on 18 December for an explanation of his views, we are yet to receive an answer and he's not the only one having a pop at the industry without being in full possession of the facts. One campaigner we spoke to recently described bottled water as the "ultimate environmental insanity". When asked why, they said simply "because it's an easy target".
It shouldn't be. Since being set up in 2007, the BWIO has been campaigning to help people make informed choices about bottled water. And, it seems, with considerable success.
Datamonitor's latest predictions, released last month, suggest sales will continue rising and that by 2011 bottled water will make up one in every four drinks sold by 2011.
A BWIO survey of 1,396 adults indicated that two thirds of people aged between 16 and 44 regularly drank bottled water on the grounds that it was healthy, convenient and tasted good.
Far from being put off by the sensationalist headlines, more people than ever are looking to bottled water to provide a healthy, on-the-go alternative to other drinks - including tap water.
Consumers also understand the environmental messages behind bottled water and the need to recycle bottles. The BWIO has consistently pointed out to the media in the past year that the PET bottles that make up the majority of packaging now weigh 30% less than 15 years ago.
Producers remain committed to improving this, as well as to using more recycled PET. Indeed, plastic recycling rates are rising some 40% year-on-year.
Meanwhile, the latest figures show that bottled water's contribution to the UK's carbon footprint is just 0.03%, and producers are committed to cutting this further by recycling packaging and deploying new technologies in extraction, energy and transport.
Furthermore, virtually all the water sold in the UK comes from the UK or France, with French-sourced water having no larger carbon footprint than British equivalents.
Comparing bottled water with other commonly sold items puts the argument into further perspective. According to Defra, tomatoes have up to 45 times the carbon footprint of bottled water and beef up to 160 times, while many organic products have even bigger carbon footprints .
These positives must not result in complacency or inactivity, of course. But if Woolas really wants to engage with the debate, he can start by encouraging councils to raise household collection and recycling rates.
Bottled water suppliers take their commitment to the environment seriously. But we would prefer to be judged on facts, not assumptions.n
Liz Bastone is a spokeswoman for the Bottled Water Information Office