The alternative to bottled water for drinking is worse than the problem
The use of bottled water or the reverse osmosis (RO) method to purify water to make it safe to drink puts additional pressure on already depleted resources in India.
Pressure on environmental resources has increased due to development activities such as population explosion, industries and automobiles. The misuse of resources beyond their renewable capacity has led to various environmental threats.
Read more: India lags behind in drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities: study
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a statutory organization under the Union Department of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change, has identified 351 polluted river stretches. More than 30% of groundwater resources are overexploited in India.
CPCB continuously justifies the problem of water pollution, but its evidence has not resulted in any change. Public policy think tank NITI Aayog says people could soon face a huge water shortage.
But India exported 3,850,431 liters of water between 2015 and 2021, which shows the government’s double standard in managing water resources.
Studies have shown that India ranks first in groundwater extraction, but is ranked 120th out of 122 countries for water quality. The country has a treatment capacity of only 43%, according to the 2021 report of the CPCB and the functioning status of the existing treatment remains to be verified.
Studies reveal that 37.7 million people in India are affected by waterborne diseases, which cost Rs 4,500 crore. As a result, middle and high income households are consuming portable drinking water and installing RO purifiers for safe drinking water.
bottled water market
RO technology claims that it removes water contamination from ions, organics, bacteria and pyrogens through its membrane and provides safe drinking water.
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Some households own ROs and others rely on private companies. The prices of RO for domestic purposes vary between Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000. Also, the maintenance cost is more than Rs 3,000 per year.
Those who cannot have reverse osmosis at home often buy 20 liters of canisters of water from private companies and the price ranges from Rs 30 to Rs 40, depending on the locality. Like LPG gas, water canisters are delivered to your home.
Society pays for pollution and this social cost is an economic burden on people.
In India, bottled water consumption has increased significantly from 15,051 million liters to 23,105 million liters in 2013 and 2021, respectively, according to consumer data researcher Statista, 2021.
Today, water consumption is part of the household budget. Households regularly consume 20 liters of canisters of bottled water for drinking and cooking.
Most people carry bottled water when traveling, and the number of water brands has also increased. People believe that drinking bottled/RO water is safe and healthy as an alternative to polluted water.
Health and bottled water
Reverse osmosis or bottled water is colloquially called “mineral water”. But studies have shown that the RO membrane removes almost all of the mineral content from the water.
Moreover, drinking this mineral-free water removes all existing minerals and vitamins from the body. Minerals and vitamins from foods, vegetables, fruits, etc. are eliminated from the body through urination.
Read more: Drinking water in America: not everyone has it
In addition, reverse osmosis water for cooking removes all essential elements from food. A considerable number of recent studies have shown that the consumption of reverse osmosis water has led to neurological, cardio, gastric and several other problems. Thus, it is obvious that consuming the so-called “mineral water” is not good for health.
Industrial effluents and other development activities have polluted available ground and surface waters.
The National Green Tribunal reports that the process involved in RO wastes 200 percent of the water. Two liters of water are wasted to get one liter of RO water. The lack of water management has led to various environmental, health and economic problems.
Nobel laureates Robert Solow and John Hartwick believe that human capital can substitute for natural capital and call it “weak sustainability”. Water, natural capital is contaminated, and human capital [RO technology] can be a substitute.
Based on the various research evidence, the RO process cannot be an alternative and can only make the problem worse. Thus, effective water management and regulation with the sole participation of the community can solve the problem.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Down to earth
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