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🔬 "The Irresistible Rise of Bottled Water"

(don't) Waste Water!

Photo by Steve Johnson / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Antoine Walter
Category: 🔬 Research

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[0:00] “In 2034 the world will spend more on bottled water than it does on utility water. $598 billion a year spent in Evian, Aquafina or Dasani. That's more than the GDP of a country like Belgium.”

[1:06] “Bottled water could have died long before the age of PET. Tap water became much safer at the beginning of the 20th century, when disinfection methods became popular, notably ozone and chloride. And indeed until the 1970s bottled water was much of a niche. At the beginning of that decade, only 1 billion liters a year of bottled water was sold in the USA, a good chunk of it being the five gallon bottles you could find in the offices.”

[1:38] “In the late 70s Perrier was a sparkling water brand essentially distributed in high end restaurants with the ambitions to become much more and to reach the mass market in the USA. So they […] initiated a market blitz with a wealth of TV ads. […] All the specialists were predicting a major failure. It's like selling canned air. Why would people spend a fortune to buy what they can get for a fraction of the time? Well, that's where everybody was wrong. Perrier wasn't really in the business of selling water. They were selling a lifestyle. Baby Boomers had a strong desire for status. Well, Perrier was bringing it in a rounded green bottle.”

[5:19] “Today in California 80% of people only drink bottled water. And in a country of iconic soda brands, bottled water surface carbonated drinks as the number one beverage in 2017.”

[6:17] “Are all consumers of bottled water victims of marketing? Well, sadly, no. […] The investments in bottled water may take over utility water in 2034. But today, apart from Mexico, and the close call in the US, utility is to the head. And if the world is on the track to raise its bottle investment from $123 billion in 2015, to $429 billion in 2030 it's widely because utilities will fail to close the water gap themselves by then.”

[6:48] “The UN Sustainable Development Goal number six […] boils down to enabling universal access to water and sanitation. Let's face it, we are far from achieving this target. Even on the water side, utilities don't get sufficient funding today in most places around the world to sustain their existing assets. And this in turn means that they're far from investing in the additional capacity that may bring drinking water to every household. And I'm not even addressing intermittent service, water scarcity or non revenue water here.”

[7:24] “It's hard to live without water. So bottled water is a safe and convenient alternative if you can't find water anywhere else. Safe, convenient, but expensive. When you spend 500 billion on bottled water, you don't get the same amount of water than when you spend 500 billion on utility infrastructure. Yet I'm […] not sure either that pushing everywhere the traditional central utility approach would be a much better solution than getting all our drinking water in bottles. Large infrastructure comes with its own caveats, ranging from inefficiencies and high operating costs to heavy capital needs through damaging incentives and even corruption.”

[8:09] “I'm not sure it's a positive thing for the world to let bottling companies and utilities fight in a lose-lose war, where utilities only underline how cheaper they are while bottling companies create ads that degrade people's trust in their tap water. But there are in fact dozens of other avenues to explore. So it's maybe time to be creative.”

[8:36] “Point of use has a bit of the beauty of the in between the principle is to treat water as the name states at its point of use. In the developed world it often takes the shape of an under the sink unit, while in the developing world we see two types of systems: tabletop gravity fed filters […] or small RUV devices. We could also factor in here atmospheric water generation […]. To that extent, when operated and maintained the right way, all these units will deliver satisfactory drinking water quality, so you can forget about the trust issue in utility water, while avoiding the hassle of collecting and disposing of bottles.”

[9:29] “A typical developed world system costs $200 to $500 for the unit, along with a $60 to $80 annual running cost. Assuming a replacement every five years, the total yearly cost is first $130 to $185. Let's compare it to bottled water now. In a bulk bag and in the Western world it costs 35 to 50 cents per liter and not accounting for the time needed to do your groceries, the gasoline and the maintenance of your car […]. That brings our cost per capita for bottled water to about $450. And the annual costs for an average 2.5 people household to $1,125. So we can estimate that point of use water is seven times cheaper than bottled water in developed countries. […] [In] the developing economy […] point of use is four to 30 times cheaper than bottled water.”

[11:23] “Point of use does not need to be designed for single households either. We could imagine winning additional scale effects and cross efficiencies at the district level. That would turn point of views into decentralized treatments and micro utilities, a kind of 21st century reinterpretation of the utility, leveraging the power of digitization while skipping the barge, where you have to lay hundreds of kilometers of enormous pipes.”

[11:52] “If there's something that the aspiring solution shall copy from the bottled water industry. It's for sure marketing.”

Rating: 💧💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 12 min | 🗓️ 08/09/2021
✅ Time saved: 10 min

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