Thursday, July 7, 2022

Impure claims about ‘pure’ water

When virtually all bottled water makers claim to be tapping some natural springs in pristine landscapes, Choppies Supermarket has opted for the truth.

For decades now, Botswana shoppers have been buying “water bottled at source”, the latter purportedly a natural spring whose location is never disclosed. In reality though, the source is the tap that dispenses Gaborone dam water courtesy of the Water Utilities Corporation. When Choppies entered the bottled water trade, it broke with tradition by providing information that its water is drawn from a public distribution system and has been purified through a process known as “reverse osmosis.”

The latter is water purification process through which water is filtered through a semi-permeable membrane to separate out residual impurities, using what in some instances can be quite basic equipment that costs as much as P4000.

In terms of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) standards, the labelling requirements must ensure that the source and purity of the bottled water are identified and that, if the label is false or misleading, the supplier is subject to civil or criminal sanctions.
In the United States, where the IBWA is based, one brand of “spring water” with a graphic of mountains and a lake on the label, was actually taken from a well in the parking lot of an industrial facility.

Here at home there are bottlers who claim that their products are spring-fed but are careful to never identify the springs in question. One very interesting thing about these springs is that there are more companies that bottle this water than there are the springs themselves. However, it does not seem like any Botswana company is a member of the IBWA because none is listed as a member on the Association’s website. The fact of the matter is that the source of the water is the WUC dams, especially Gaborone Dam.

Although the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations stated in 1997 that bottled water is no more nutritional, purer, tastier and safer to drink than tap water, its popularity continues to rise because consumers associate it with social status and healthy living. The industry enjoys annual sales of more than US$35 billion worldwide and in some parts of the west, bottled water bars (the equivalent of coffee shops) are springing up.

In 2009 – the latest year for which figures are available – global bottled water consumption is estimated to have exceeded 53.5 billion gallons according to data from the Beverage Marketing’s The Global Bottled Water Market. Swiss food and beverage company, Nestl├® and France’s Danone are the industry leaders. The popularity of bottled water has been motivation for soft drink industry makers Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to also package their own water. Taking cue from that perhaps, Botswana’s own Kgalagadi Breweries Limited bottles its own Source water.

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