Several manufacturers of bottled water have contacted Panorama. This is what they say about their industry.
DANONE - Makers of Volvic and Evian
Based on an annual UK consumption of bottled water of 36 litres per person, the CO2 equivalent emissions created by this activity represents about 0.06% of the total daily emissions of an average British person.
The CO2 equivalent emissions of a litre of bottled water are less than one-thirtieth of that of a kilo of organic chicken.
For those UK bottled water consumption occasions that take place in the home, the easy answer might be to drink tap water instead.
The reality is that many consumers choose bottled water in preference to tap water.
This choice may be based on taste or the reassurance that, in the cases of Natural Mineral Water and Spring Water, it has not been chemically treated.
With no bottled water available, it is reasonable to assume that these consumers would not revert to tap, but would instead seek to supplement their liquid intake with other beverages.
Usage studies that we have conducted suggest to us that hot beverages (e.g. tea and coffee) are the most likely direct substitutes to bottled water.
Careful selection of transport methods has enabled Danone to achieve a very effective management of the carbon footprint of Evian and Volvic waters.
Danone uses a combination of rail, sea, and road transport to move products from the sources (where they are bottled) in France to UK customers' warehouses.
Danone makes the maximum possible use of electric rail routes in France, which offer a highly efficient large-scale method for goods transportation.
Since 2005 Danone Waters UK has increased the proportion of miles its products travel by train from 59% to 70% of the total distance.
This has been a major component of significant reductions in the carbon footprints of Evian and Volvic.
On a worldwide basis, Danone has achieved a 30% reduction in the average weight of its PET bottles over the last 15 years. In the last three years alone, the average weight of Evian and Volvic bottles reduced by 11%.
In addition to ongoing projects to reduce the weight of packaging materials, Evian & Volvic will progressively introduce recycled PET into the manufacture its bottles during 2008.
It is important to note that PET bottles are 100% recyclable.
Unfortunately, the UK has one of the lowest consumer recycling rates in Europe.
Government landfill waste reduction targets tend to be defined by weight, which means that heavier materials (glass, for example) provide more attractive areas of focus for the waste management industry.
Danone, along with other soft drinks manufacturers, is currently exploring opportunities to work with local authorities on initiatives to improve PET recovery and recycling.
NESTLE - Makers of Buxton and Vittel
In 2006 Buxton reduced water consumption in manufacture by 17% while increasing production by 11%.
In 2007 a £10m investment in a highly efficient production line resulted in further reductions in water used during production.
Nestlé Waters UK has reduced plastic (PET) used in bottles by 24% between 2005 and 2007. In 2007 we expect to have saved over 900,000 1.5cl bottles worth of plastic through our reduction programme.
More than 90% of the bottled water produced by Nestlé Waters globally is consumed in the country of origin. Nestlé Waters UK international brands use rail and shipping as their primary mode of transport.
With 60% of the UK population predicted to be obese by 2050 (source Foresight Report) it is counter-productive to discourage bottled water consumption.
You can't take a tap out with you, so more consumers are swapping sweetened, high calorie beverages for bottled water, which can be consumed in adequate quantities to re-hydrate the body without adding calories to the diet.
Highland Spring Ltd is the lead company in the UK pilot trial of the Carbon Action Plan (CAP), an international carbon footprint/carbon label protocol developed for the bottled water industry under the auspices of NSF International (a global 'not for profit' standards and auditing organisation) and Zenith International Ltd. (the UK's leading hydro-geological and environmental consultancy).
This pilot is due to be completed in spring 2008, with the results currently scheduled for mid April.
Thereafter the findings will be used to develop carbon labels for consumer information, including CO2 equivalent values, which will be applied to Highland Spring branded spring water products, and to other UK & EU participants' bottled water products under the CAP programme.
Bottled water does not compete with tap water by virtue of its product formulation (tap water must contain an active disinfectant at the point of dispense while 'natural' bottled waters must be micro-biologically safe to drink at source).
In terms of its packaging, distribution channels and product characteristics bottled water competes with bottled soft drinks.
This relationship has been proven by extensive consumer research and the direct correlation between increasing sales of bottled water and declining sales of soft drinks.
Highland Spring believes this trend reflects advice from government and public health agencies urging the public, particularly children, to reduce their intake of sugars, unsaturated and hydrogenised fats and salt.
Bottled waters do not contain any of these ingredients, nor do they contain potential harmful additives, associated with preservatives, flavourings or colouring agents.
Natural source waters like Highland Spring are made by nature, with the only permitted additive being CO2 to make 'sparkling' water.
Bottled water pricing reflects the policies and relative buying power of retail distributors, whether grocery, convenience stores, restaurants etc and attracts 17.5% VAT.
Unlike tap water, which in a monopoly situation has its prices fixed by a regulatory regime ultimately controlled by government, and which has benefited from taxpayers subsidies for many years.
Recent press debate over the environmental impact of bottled water versus tap has ignored the embedded 'carbon foot print' associated with the vast scale of the water collection, purification and distribution of public water supplies, plus the collection, treatment and recycling of sewage necessary to maintain supplies.
The renewal of much of the UK's water utility distribution pipes with MD PVC plastic pipes is in itself creating a carbon footprint associated with the unavoidable use of petro-carbon based products (reference Zenith International).
Tap water is not as green as some eco-lobbyists believe.
The UK water utilities' leak more water in less than a day than the UK's total annual consumption of bottled water (2.27 billion litres).
While the level of leakage from the UK water utilities has been reduced it still stands at an average of 22% in England & Wales and over 40% in Scotland.
Not only does this waste post production resources, but it creates an additional environmental impact due to the necessary repairs.
The repair of leaks creates its own 'repair miles' and its own carbon foot print from the use of vans, generators, floodlights, drills, diggers, road repair materials, etc.
The water utilities provide an excellent product and a good service with a historically under funded infrastructure.
Highland Spring believes that bottled water and tap water are complementary and that consumers are free to choose between them according to their needs and lifestyle choices.
Bottled waters do not invest heavily in consumer advertising by contrast to the soft drinks industry, and the growth in demand for bottled water products stems for increasing perceptions that consuming water is beneficial to health and wellbeing.
It is a matter of record that in national emergencies the UK bottled water industry provides an essential back-up to the water utilities emergency supply arrangements.
Approx 75% bottled water consumed in the UK is produced in the UK. Most imports are from France, Ireland, Italy, Belgium. Exotic long distance imports (e.g. Fiji) are negligible (See Zenith Bottled Water 2007 Report)