Bottled water. It’s something many of us in modernized countries take for granted. It has been accessible to many of us without thought throughout our lifetime. It’s so normalized that we seldom stop to consider those who do not have access to clean water, or what the environmental impact is for those who rely heavily on bottled water. Where does all that plastic go? Is it all recycled? Does it end up in the ocean?
It may come as a surprise to learn the top three countries that consume the most bottled water per capita are: Mexico, Thailand, and Italy, according to a study by Statista. The United States takes fourth place while the United Kingdom does not even make the top ten list. An article in The Shelby Report from May of 2020 detailed how bottled water consumption continues to rise every year at an alarming rate.
What does this mean for the environment? Let’s break it down by country.
MEXICO – 61.8 billion gallons/person/year
Coming in at number one is Mexico. It came as a surprise that a larger country with a higher population did not take this place. Keep in mind that this research is based on consumption per capita. If you search for countries with the most bottled water consumption overall, China will likely come up as the top country in search results. For the purposes of this article, we wanted to niche down to per capita ratings and take a closer look at the environmental impacts.
Mexico is not known for safe tap water, hence the rise in people seeking bottled water for safer consumption. This created a bottled water boom and put Mexico to the top of the list. Mexico’s citizens consume an average of 61.8 billion gallons per person per year, more than twice the average of the United States. As for the environment? It’s littered with plastic water bottles. They pile up alongside roads and in landfills at alarming rates. An average of 21.3 million plastic bottles is emptied every day in Mexico. How many of those are being recycled? Experts say less than 1/8th. Yikes.
THAILAND – 57.5 billion gallons/person/year
In a close second Thailand has been reported to consume 57.5 billion gallons of bottled water per capita each year. This is largely due to the tourism industry. Similar to Mexico, tap water is unsafe to drink in many parts of Asia. Thus increasing the need for bottled water to both residents and tourists on a daily basis.
One environmentalist saw the issue of plastic and came up with an idea. Instead of trying to keep up with the environmental risk of cleaning up mass amounts of littered plastic, two South African entrepreneurs sought to source a new form of clean water. They partnered with JW Marriott in Phuket and are in the works to expand to additional locations. It’s small, but it’s a start in the right direction.
A shocking 60% of all plastic found in the world’s oceans are said to originate in Asia. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific began a forum in 2017 to encourage resort islands to find new ways for sustainable water and not rely so heavily on bottled water. The initiative at JW Marriott saved 100,000 bottles in the span of only four months.
ITALY – 50.3 billion gallons/person/year
Coming in at third Italy is Europe’s largest bottled water consumer bringing in 50.3 billion gallons of bottled water. Sparkling water is the most consumed in Italy with still being second. While tap water is generally safe to drink in Italy, it is not seen as an advantage to restaurants and stores. A blog from a newer Italian citizen stated that most restaurants will only offer bottled only to try to upsell you, due to the higher quality of taste. Customers generally feel uneasy demanding for tap water when offered a cold bottle of Evian or San Pellegrino.
How is Italy handling the environmental impact? In recent years filtered water stations have been installed around Italy. You will find them near parks and large tourist attractions. This pushes away the need to buy bottles altogether, thus sparing the environment from the damaging effects of wasted plastic.
What can you do to help the environment and reduce bottled water consumption? The Sküma device allows you to recreate mineral water from any tap or impure water! Find out more here.