Healthy drinking but will the environment suffer?

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Drinking plenty of water is crucial to good health. Although, research has shown, only one in ten of the UK population consume the recommended amount - about eight large glasses or two litres a day.

Children in particular need plenty of water, but a new Brita survey written to demonstrate the numerous health and beauty benefits of water, and to explain why we should drink plenty of it, found that on average the children drank only two and a half glasses of water a day.

The survey also found that on average, children aged between 4-15, drink only two and a half glasses of plain water a day. Over one fifth of children drink no water at all and only 24% drink the amount recommended by experts.

The most popular alternatives to water are fruit juice (drunk by 54% of children) and squash (53%), with fizzy and milk based drinks close behind (46% and 40% respectively) - the main reason children gave for not liking water was its taste.

Nearly half said that they preferred the taste of other drinks. Even though many parents would like their children to drink more plain water, according to the survey - 27% said they never encourage their children to drink water.

Water safety is safer than it has ever been say government regulators. The Drinking Water Inspectorate's latest report, from 1999, revealed that 99.8% of nearly 2.8m tests carried out on water showed compliance with the standards

However, as the DWI itself points out, no one can guarantee absolute levels of safety. Very low levels of some impurities may still be present in the water, although well below concentrations considered hazardous to health.

So, what water should we be drinking - should it be bottled, filtered or straight from the tap? Mineral or spring, sparkling or still?

There are three main types of bottled water - mineral, spring and table - and each is subject to strict regulations. Mineral and spring waters are often thought to be high in valuable minerals because they filter through rocks. Mineral and spring waters are also thought to be naturally purified.

On the label
Mineral Water Single underground source No chemical treatment permitted
Spring Water Single underground source May be treated before bottling
Table Water No regulations on source(table water can in fact come from a tap) May be treated before bottling, is often filtered tap water which has been bottled.

Around 70% of UK tap water comes from reservoirs or rivers, with a further 30% coming from underground. Most 'raw' water goes through an extensive treatment process to make it safe for human consumption. Although, ground water, because it goes through a process of natural purification, needs little treatment, apart from some disinfectant to keep it safe during transportation.

There are environmental issues that also need to be addressed and perhaps the biggest cost of drinking bottled water is not to the consumer but to the environment.

The Brita report claims that the environmental impact just transporting bottled water - in terms of both fuel emissions and non-renewable fuel consumption - is hard to estimate.

It says that some 624,807 tonnes of bottled water were imported to the UK in 1999 - an increase of over 200,000 tonnes on 1998's figure. Over half of this came from France, which produces the two top bottled waters sold in the UK. The journey from the French Alps, where Evian, the top-selling brand in the UK, comes from - is about 760km. Last year, the UK also imported 48,661 tonnes of mineral water from Canada - a journey of over 3,000 miles.

Environmentalists apparently work it out in terms of "food miles". Just one tonne of bottled water travelling one kilometre by road will generate 2.4 grams of carbon monoxide, 3.6 grams of nitrogen oxides and 0.3 grams of hydrocarbons - three of the most serious pollutants in fuel emissions.

Even bottled waters, which are produced in the UK are subject to considerable transportation costs in terms of bottling, packaging, transport to regional distribution centres and then on to shops.

As the bottled water sector continues to grow and brand/product awareness is raised by aggressive marketing and advertising campaigns, the environmental issues are not the only problems that will need addressing by the market leaders, whether they be mineral, spring, sparkling or still.

Prices for premium natural spring water could soon rise as resources dwindle. More companies could soon be joining the fight for a share of the market - as manufactured water in turn becomes more popular - and who knows - regional water companies could also be seen advertising their own brand of bottled tap water.

Companies: Evian

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