Bottle philosophy – people, water and consumption


Drinking bottled water comes in for incessant criticism in the affluent societies of the West. Criticism should really encourage us to think, and that has to be a good thing. But when looked at dispassionately, what’s actually behind the condemnation of bottled water? So let’s try to see the issue in a somewhat wider context.

Every human being has needs. These basic needs include (even before food and quite definitely before all kinds of luxury goods) an adequate intake of liquids, i.e. drinking. Because without drinking enough liquids you will ultimately fall ill and suffer.

Fundamentally, we cannot go through life without in some way adversely affecting our natural environment and our fellow-humans. Looked at realistically, living a sustainable and morally justifiable life always entails a balancing act between your own personal interests and those of others. Your own freedom should stop where another person’s freedom begins, so that ultimately everyone gets a fair slice of the cake. If you give some prudent forethought to future generations (and perhaps even take a global view, though this would put the richer countries in an uncomfortable position), this time-honoured philosophical stance is a sound moral foundation, both for personal decisions and as a guideline for fair and reasonable legislation.

We all have to abide by the law. Outside of these constraints, however, we’re allowed (not least financially) to take acceptably reasonable decisions for ourselves – so here the choice is ours: a terraced house on a zero-energy housing estate or a stand-alone detached house; a 300-horsepower SUV or bicycle, bus and train. A hiking holiday in our own country or a flight to the Caribbean; motor sport or the cinema round the corner. Organic vegetables from the surrounding region or cheap meat from factory farms. And, of course: tap water or packaged beverages.

There’s no doubt that it’s less burdensome for the natural environment to drink tap water (at least where there is no health hazard involved) than packaged beverages from bottles or cartons, for example.. It’s equally undisputed, however, that a bottle of water in the right situation (i.e. when you’re thirsty and there isn’t a drinking fountain nearby) signifies an improvement in the current quality of life. And that water, out of all packaged beverages, indubitably has the lowest environmental impact.*


In this sense, in the debate on beverage packaging, too, I would really like to see the following: more tolerance and a sense of proportion, less finger-wagging and ideological prejudice. Overall, then, a reasoned and fair-minded debate. This contentious issue deserves nothing less.


*irrespective of the method of calculation used, since all other beverages also contain this water, plus “others”. Namely as constituents, and correspondingly with an “ecological footprint”, in terms of both material and energy consumption