Thursday, 11 October 2007

water water every where, and far too much to drink

I would like to return to one of my old hobby horses. I go to London most weeks, and this week was no exception. I am a Trustee of the BBC Wildlife Fund, and we were assessing the applications for funds to be distributed from the £1.4 million raised in the summer.

But travelling across London on the underground I was aware of the number of travellers clutching plastic bottles of water. I have been travelling on the London underground for over 50 years, and this a relatively new phenomenon. Why?

It appears that there is a widespread belief that everyone needs to drink two litres of water a day. Presumably this is a rumour spread by the manufacturers of bottled water, because there is no scientific evidence for this. You need to drink water, when you feel thirsty -- the body self regulates.

But with all this talk about saving energy, banning the sale of bottled water ( or at least taxing it to the limit) would be an instant way of saving vast amounts of energy. Non-renewable resources and fossil fuels are involved at every stage of the manufacture and production. The bottles themselves, the collection of the water, the distribution, and the disposal of the waste bottles. And yet perfectly good, potable water comes out of taps (despite the arguments about it tasting of chlorine, etc, it is perfectly healthy and safe). In fact some of the bottled water has more nitrates, and more chemicals than tap water. In fact I saw on one website the claim that some bottled waters couldn't be supplied through the tap, since they wouldn't meet H & S regulations.

And surely bottled water wastes more energy than leaving a TV on standby? But do politicians ever mention it? No, they drink it at all their meetings.

Does any one have a figure for the embedded energy in a bottle of water (including distribution and disposal)?


  1. Granted, the scientific evidence for drinking 2 litres of water a day is lacking, but that doesn’t mean that people will not need to drink while they are out and about – especially on the tube in London when it can be stiflingly hot! I personally, always carry a bottle of water about with me – and try to re-use bottles where I can, re-filling them with tap water. However on days when I am less organised, I will buy new bottles of water, and see this as a far better option to buying fizzy drinks and funding the US-based multinationals that dominate the market – which also have the same issues about using non-renewable energy to manufacture and transport their products. Surely the message should be focussing on recycling and not whether there is a growing trend for people drinking more water?

  2. Trouble is, a lot of the bottled water companies are owned by same people who make fizzy drinks. Carrying your own bottle is definitely better than buying it, but the point I am making is that the whole concept of selling bottled water is a huge waste of resources.

  3. I think the confusion over how many litres we need to drink comes from the fact that these guidelines are for liquids - not water - so include the liquid we get from foods as well.

    Like Kirsty I'm sometimes not organised enough to take water with me, and I hate buying fizzy drinks or sweet juices, so would rather buy water (and try to buy local ones not made by multinationals, although it is sometimes difficult to know who owns what). Perhaps the solution is to go into cafes and ask for a glass of tap water? Not sure the staff would appreciate it if everyone did though...

    Whatever happened to pubic drinking fountains by the way? You used to see them everywhere but I can't remember the last time I saw one.

  4. Ooops, I did of course mean public water fountains!!!

  5. Like John, I have been surprised at this phenomenon. I have to admit to sometimes carrying fluids, but in bottles or hipflasks and so for psychological rather than physiological purposes. However, recently I have started to carry water on planes because it appears that the "in flight" atmosphere is very dehydrating is a cause of jet-lag on long flights.

    I can't think of any example in the mammal or bird world where creatures drink so frequently as in this recent phenomenon. (I note that rugby players constantly sip water, but they are operating at extreme physical limits.)

    Even desert species drink infrequently. Otherwise they would be severely limited in their activities. If humans evolved on the savannah, they would not have been able to drink frequently.

    I also wonder about the benefit of frequent drinking. Kirsty is right about the Tube being a hellhole but what difference will a few cc of water make? Unless she is pouring with sweat in an effort to keep her temperature under control, in which case she would be in distress rather than discomfort, overall water loss can be controlled by reduced renal function. She might do better to take a thermos of hot water. A "nice cup of tea" is better on a hot day than an icecream because it fools the brain into thinking the body is overheating and the thermostat is turned down.
    The public drinking fountains have gone but I can see a need for more public conveniences with all this drinking.

  6. You might be interested in reading these:

    Eight Glasses Myth

    "Drink at Least 8 Glasses of Water a Day" - Really?

    Which confirm that this is a myth which nobody seem to know exactly where it came from.

    The consensus seem to be that a healthy adult, sitting in a temperate climate needs about a litre of fluid per day - and part of this could be obtained from food. Clearly you'll need more when doing physical work, but it seems common sense is best: Drink when you're thirsty!

    So...might this 8 glasses (2 litres) a day myth have been dreamt up by producers of bottle water perhaps?!