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Sat 8 Sep 2007 10:27 AM

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Fighting the battle of the bottle

The newest trend in bottled water seems to be – not drinking it.

In the heat of a Middle East summer, hardly anyone would venture out during the day without a plastic bottle of water tucked somewhere. In fact, at 265 litres per person, per year, the UAE has the world's highest per capita consumption of bottled water.

Worldwide, bottled water consumption is growing at an annual rate of 12 percent, though in newer markets like India, it is increasing by as much as 50 percent annually. Consumers across the globe now spend upwards of $35 billion a year on bottled water.

But criticism of bottled water is also on the increase as many people are beginning to question the need to manufacture, ship and dispose of tens of millions of plastic and glass bottles of water.

Producing 1 kilogram of PET plastic requires 17.5 kilograms of water and results in emissions of 2.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

As for distribution, one difference between bottled and tap water comes from the fossil fuels burned to transport it by truck, train, or boat instead of by pipe. Some conservationists say that drinking bottled water is one of the easiest ways to increase your carbon footprint.

People are also becoming more aware that many bottled waters are actually filtered tap water. Nestle's Pure Life, and PepsiCo's Aquafina, both of which are sold in the UAE, are both made from treated water which has been artificially remineralised.

Bottled waters distinguish themselves from the competition by the levels of total dissolved solids (tds). This is essentially the mineral content of the water.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set the maximum recommended levels of tds at no more than 500mg per litre. Tap water in the UAE was recently tested by Euro Forbes lab as having 140-250 mg per litre, making it "moderately hard" but safe to drink straight from the tap (unless there is a dead bird in your water tank). In contrast Nestle's Pure Life has a tds of between 77-110 mg/litre.

In the UAE, most people use water dispensers at home. But although the most popular bottled waters drunk at home are locally produced, hotels and restaurants serve a large variety of imported bottled waters. Yet, with the world's attention increasingly turning to issues of sustainability, the time may be right to stop serving imported bottled water.

Some restaurants are going one step further and refusing to serve bottled water of any kind. Chez Panise and Incanto restaurants in San Fransisco, and Mario Batali's Del Posto in New York have banned bottled water from their tables and now serve filtered water in carafes. Batali's restaurant also makes its own carbonated water on site from filtered tap water. This is a bold move, because the mark-up on bottled water can be tremendous, but all of these high-end restaurants have decided that customers are ready to drink sustainably.

But are customers ready to give up imported water sold in blue Venitian glass (Blue Keld water - 340 tds) or best-selling Perrier (475 tds)? Probably not.

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