Radio Four’s Today programme had an item yesterday about supermarket online delivery services, which are becoming ever more popular as an alternative to conventional shopping. The environmental benefits of are still being debated – whether it’s better to have shops come to customers rather than the other way around, etc – but one thing that struck me as odd. During the Today reporter’s visit to an online delivery warehouse, he mentioned that there was one immense aisle just for bottled water.
Forgive me sounding like a militant green type, but can this really be justified? It’s one thing to deliver a week’s supply of groceries to someone’s house. It’s another, surely, to deliver a product that they can get just by turning on their kitchen tap. After all, a week’s supply of bottled water for an entire family is a fairly hefty cargo to have to ferry about. If we are going to be environmentally aware about this, shouldn’t there be some exemption, in terms of online deliveries, for items such as water?
Indeed, shouldn’t governments be doing much more to discourage people from drinking bottled water in the first place? After all, the sheer amount of plastic being used to create the millions of bottles that are now drunk around the world every day is immense. In many of the less tidy countries that I visit these days in my job, the cities and countryside are festooned with empty bottles, and our oceans are rapidly going the same way.
The argument goes, of course, that in some countries, the water out of the taps isn’t safe to drink. But can people really make that same case here in Britain? This cold, rainy island of ours is blessed with some of the best water in the world, is it not? Why else do we use it for making our world-famous malt whiskies? And do they really think that our major companies are going to be cavalier about safety standards, when they’re supplying it millions of people every day? The slightest problem, and they’ll face a flood of lawsuits and health and safety prosecutions.
Indeed, various studies suggest that tap water is safer overall, and the only public health scares I ever recall about water have involved the bottled type, such as the time back in 1990 when benzene was found in bottles of Perrier in the US (put there, apparently, by a worker making a mistake in the filtering procedure).
What’s more, if my personal experience is anything to go, the risks of drinking tap water overseas are somewhat exaggerated. In ten years of travelling around the world, I have quaffed tap water from hotels and houses in all manner of countries, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes not, and have yet to suffer any unfortunate consequences. While kidnapped in Somalia a few years ago, I even spent six weeks drinking water from a disused diesel can, and apart from a slight oily whiff, it was fine (a doctor who checked me afterwards said the diesel even have acted as a disinfectant, although he didn’t recommend it long term).
So come on Mr Cameron, boost your battered green credentials by thinking up some kind of special tax on bottled water. After all, you put enough on bottled whisky.