Environment Society

Be fooled, be bottled! A business that’s looting the world!

“Rich people’s garbage was every year more complex, rife with hybrid materials, impurities, impostors. Planks that looked like wood were shot through with plastic. How was he to classify a loofah? The owners of the recycling plants demanded waste that was all one thing, pure.” ~ Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Written by Amit Chaurasia
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“The greatest trick devil ever pulled off was to convince the world he does not exist.” – Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint, Usual Suspects, 1995.

And the greatest ever trick pulled in one of the biggest scams of earth – Only bottled water is good!

I not just survived but thrived for the first 20 years of my life drinking the tap water flowing in pipes which ran parallel to sewages in the chawls of Mumbai suburbs. The only precaution my mother would occasionally take was to boil the water and/or stir some alum in it during rains when it looked murky. Not just me, but lacs of other kids thrived and ensured that Narendra Modi storms the parliament in style. Btw, this was in the days before the “highly patriotic”, “dedicated”, “incorruptible” and “highly intellectual” Main stream Media” (MSM) had blessed the country with its heart-aching concern.

According to Business Standard, bottled-water industry in India is valued at Rs.6000 crore. With a 20% CAGR, it is expected to reach Rs.16,000 crore by 2018. Valuenotes, a Pune based research firm whose report is quoted by Business Standard, classifies the bottle industry into 2 segments viz Packaged drinking water, actually a treated water from any potable source, most likely the tap and natural mineral water.The former holds 85% market share. Major drivers of growth are supposedly unclean tap water and increase in tourism.

Let me share a story. Not very long ago, a very “reputed” bottling water company in the US ran an advertising campaign saying “The label says Fiji because it’s not bottled in Cleveland”. The creator of this campaign never would have imagined how this will make a dent in the future of the whole industry. The Clevelanders, obviously offended by the ad line decided to test their tap water with the well-known brands available and the results had those businesses run for cover. Tap water was more healthy than the bottled counterpart in almost all counts! This was in the US where regulatory mechanisms governing the food industry are much more stringent. How things could be in India is anybody’s guess. In Bangalore, it is common to see smaller trucks carrying 20 & 40L jars to be delivered to people who do not want to expose their health to unhygienic tap water. And the catch here is that a Bisleri jar costs twice the local jar. I can’t muster enough courage to even let my thoughts think about the source of water that goes in those “local” jars. Meanwhile, your truly prefers Bisleri 🙂

When the Nestles, Pepsis and the Cola Colas of the world hit a wall in the growth of soda businesses, they came out with a brilliant concept of “Manufactured demand”. And it worked too. They pocket a combined $110 billion from bottled water. Half of the American and Australian population relies on bottled water. Billions of plastic water bottles are manufactured, filled with treated tap water, even untreated in some cases and transported far and wide in a well spun industry spawned by the marketing brilliance of the minds that walk the hallowed precincts of the Harvards and the Whartons of the world. How do you manufacture this demand? By scaring and seducing people. So, a sustained market campaign is launched to scare people about the ill effects of consuming tap water and how a bottled water is the saviour of health and well-being in this polluted and contaminated earth. In India it was even easier. Vast areas never had tap water at all. Then they seduced you with a freedom-seeking, highly independent, ambitious artist and a modern 21st century woman by having her shed clothes in a desert, drink bottled water and get transported with a blink of eyes to the banks of a serene river originating from the mountains. Bottled water was made a status symbol and style statement too. Cricket and football heroes, whether or not heroic on the field, displayed oomph while sipping the liquid from the bottles placed at the periphery of the ground. A few years ago when T3 at Delhi airport was not a reality, a simple request to an airport official for directions to a “free” drinking water kiosk and NOT a Bisleri counter subjected me to humiliating stares exclusively reserved for third rate human beings. In another instance, I was the object of ridicule when I objected to a Rs.20 bottled water being sold for Rs.80 at Mumbai Airport. They didn’t know I am a Taurian.

Water is scarce and MNCs are creating monopoly over water via #bottledwater. Time to think! #Environment #Waterwars Click To Tweet

We hardly give thought to the impact when we gulp that bottle of water. First of all, the bottling plants are depleting the underground water level. With the regulatory mechanisms in India being so weak, there is absolutely no data on how much ground water is being pumped out at the expense of those farmers who are fighting a losing battle to preserve their existence. The frequency and severity of droughts in India was never so grave. One of the major reasons of farmers committing suicide is the scarcity of water that is actually diverted to the industry. Its a pity that a village woman has to walk miles with a pitcher on her head to fetch potable drinking water while the companies pump out the same water and sell us for extortionist prices. If the water can be delivered through bottles, why can’t it be brought through pipes. This whole eco-system of water business has to be busted.

Oil import bill burns a huge hole in our fiscal health. A major chunk of this petroleum import goes in manufacturing PET bottles used to deliver water. Most of them land up on our  roads, railway tracks, gutters or water bodies. Many villages on the outskirts of a metro city are fighting a losing battle against the landfills where the city garbage is dumped everyday and later burnt emitting poisonous gases. I was aghast to see even pristine places like Ladakh littered and polluted with water bottles thrown by “educated” trekkers who want to enjoy nature. In the US, only 13% of these bottles are, not actually recycled but down-cycled i.e made to some lower quality plastic compound to be dumped again. Do I need to say anything about India?

Its time we start making sense of that elusive common sense. Its foolish to spend 2000 times the money for anything’s real value. Imagine buying a Rs.20 Idli Sambaar plate for Rs. 40,000. Drinking water has to be free. We pay for it. Even if you evade income tax, you do pay for water to be provided for free. Let’s start reclaiming our resources from those greedy businesses which are relentless in minting money even if it means extracting every resource that this earth is endowed with. There might be situations where normal water is scarce, unhealthy and contaminated but begin to prefer and insist on filtered tap water at every opportunity. Invest and install a water filter at home if you don’t want to take chances. Remember, its a manufactured demand. Once the demand dies, the industry will be killed automatically. Support clean water projects. Recently some state governments experimented with water ATMs which dispensed clean ionised drinking water free of cost. Let us start a movement to build pressure on the government to invest in infrastructure to provide clean drinking water.

Billions of people lived before us for centuries drinking plain drinking water and created history. We too can! That’s what the slogan was for one of the greatest election campaign and celebration of democracy. Lets claim what belongs to us, we the people.

References:

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Image Source: Flickr

 

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About the author

Amit Chaurasia

Arrogant yet flirtatious. Confused yet intelligent. Indifferent yet caring. Fiercely argumentative. Loves to ride, be it bikes or horses. A nationalist who believes in Yog, Vedant, Bharat/India. Yearns to break free. Wading through Amit's thoughts will be worth your time. He guarantees money-back, but of course he decides the denomination.

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