THE thought of people in 21st century Ireland buying a bottle of water would surely astonish our ancestors who would have looked on a water as a ‘free’ commodity.
However, consumption of bottled water in Ireland has soared in recent years, up from 113 million litres in 2001 to 193m litres in 2008.
The average person now drinks 45 litres of bottled water per year, compared to 30 litres in 2001.
It has become an important industry, with sales now worth€318m and up 8% last year. Everyone seems to have a bottle, whether on the street, in the car, the office, or on the sports field.
Given that most of this water comes in plastic containers, it adds to our waste disposal problem. Irish households now account for around 20,000 tonnes of plastic, annually, mainly plastic bottles.
So, someone somewhere had to come up with a solution. Wellness Water, claimed to be the first Irish spring water in a 100% environmentally friendly bottle, has been launched by Clare Spring Water Ltd.
It comes in a biodegradable and compostable bottle, said to be 75% more environmentally friendly to produce than its oil-based counterpart. It is being distributed in 550ml bottles to shops by BR Foods. The bottle is made from corn or sugar beet, a packaging material said to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 75%.
The label is also biodegradable. The product offers a solution to environmental concerns in disposing plastic water bottles, according to Clare Spring Water managing director Paul Connellan.
Contracts have been secured to supply an international airline and a restaurant chain based in The Netherlands, due environmentally friendly packaging.
Almost €5m has been invested in the wind-powered plant, in Lissycasey, Co Clare, which has seen employment grow from 10 to 26 people.
The ground from which the water is sourced has been certified as organic by the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association.
The Clare brand is one of many following the trail blazed by Ballygowan, long since a leading brand and one of Ireland’s great marketing success stories.
When Ballygowan was introduced in 1984 many people were sceptical about the notion of selling bottled water, but more than two billion bottles have since been bottled at source at Newcastle West, Co Limerick. Upwards of 60 million litres of bottled water are produced by the company each year.
Ballygowan is drawn from a single well in the plant which has the capacity to bottle 960,000 bottles a day and store 400,000 cases of bottled water at any one time. The plant is among the most modern in Europe.
Separately, fears have been raised recently about the quality and purity of bottled water in Ireland. However, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has said consumers should not be concerned about the quality and safety of bottled water.
It said any issues identified at the time of countrywide sampling (2007) were corrected immediately, with a number of bottled waters withdrawn from the market and corrective actions taken by the industry in other cases.
The samples were taken across a range of premises by environmental health officers, including supermarkets, small retail stores, vending machines, pubs, hotels, restaurants and ethnic stores in the last four months of 2007.
The report gave a snapshot of bottled water on the market in that year where a small number of samples, 10 out of 952, were detected with E coli. Immediate action was taken with the manufacturers and distributors after the bacteria had been found, according to the FSAI.
Also, 6.3% of bottled water samples were found to contain coliforms – a group of bacteria that raise concerns regarding the standards of hygiene of the water source or the bottling process.
The presence of coliforms in bottled water does not necessarily indicate a risk to consumer health, but any breach is unacceptable and the FSAI is satisfied that appropriate actions have been taken to remedy the situation.
Still, some people insist on getting tap water when they go to restaurants and pubs. A recent survey in England found 37% of diners said they always asked for bottled water, but the number of people who ask for tap water is believed to be on the rise after campaigns to cut the environmental cost of bottled water.
Sales of bottled water in Britain had been increasing by around 6% annually to more than two billion litres but, last year, that trend was reversed, with sales dropping 9%.
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