Stop buying bottled water

Edwin Lau says given the waste that goes into using bottled water, more Hongkongers should carry their own drinking water when going out.

“Convenient and fast” are words often used in marketing as companies push for higher profits. Consumers can be swayed relatively easily by such vocabulary in promotions and advertisements to create consumption desire, whether or not the product is really needed.

Take bottled water for example. Do we in Hong Kong really need it when we can get safe drinking water from the tap? It involves high profit margins, and has a profoundly harmful effect on the environment. According to research, it takes three litres of water to produce one litre of bottled water. That’s quite apart from the energy used and carbon emissions generated from its production and transportation.

This is happening when scientists are warning that climate change will affect worldwide water supplies. Hong Kong already has to rely heavily on the mainland for its supply.
The Environmental Protection Department says Hong Kong throws away four to five million plastic bottles every day. With such a huge amount of waste generated, should we not stop to think why we need to buy bottled water?
One reason is that there’s no penalty for the disposal of plastic bottles. Furthermore, producers of bottled drinks are not obliged to recycle their bottles.

It is not so long ago that we all survived perfectly well without bottled water. I carried a durable Hong Kong-made plastic bottle to primary school and to picnics for my drinking water. But today, when I go to seminars and meetings, bottled water seems a “must have” item on the table.
Is it because the “convenient and fast” culture is so deeply rooted in organisers’ minds?
These bottles can be recycled. But clearly this isn’t happening – Hong Kong recovered only 26 per cent of plastic in 2013. The recycling rates of PET bottles are probably much lower.

Today, almost everybody carries a bag when going out. So it shouldn’t be hard to take with us a durable bottle filled with tap water, to save some money and avoid generating plastic waste. It requires a behavioural change to show our commitment to a sustainable environment by creating a zero-waste culture.

I have urged beverage producers to sell their water through water dispensers to cut down plastic bottle waste at source. But without producer responsibility legislation, this is unlikely to happen.

It is estimated that 663 million people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water. We should feel ashamed to drink bottled water, which takes so much water to produce.

Although Hong Kong is safe from water shortages now, we should not take it for granted that our water supply will last forever. It’s time for everyone to carry their own bottle of tap water.

Edwin Lau Che-feng is executive director of The Green Earth
22 March, 2016 South China Morning Post