Comment – make tap water the norm in pubs and restaurants

It's an awkward moment - you ask for a glass of water and the waiter brings you a flashy-looking bottle with price tag to match. But according to environmentalists, we should be served tap water as standard unless we tell them otherwise.

CIWEM supports the move by the government-funded Consumer Council for Water and Thames Water to encourage the hospitality industry to serve free tap water to customers.

The Institution recognises that consumers should have the choice to purchase bottled water but CIWEM also believes that bottling water is not a sustainable use of natural resources.

The high environmental costs associated with bottled water relate to abstraction, processing, packaging, transportation and disposal, all of which involve a significant amount of energy use and pollution.

CIWEM is also concerned at the PR driven perception of bottled water being healthier than tap water. Labelling is not required to reflect the chemical and bacteriological content of bottled water and the high mineral content of some bottles is unsuitable for babies and children.

Tap water is subjected to stringent quality controls and is 500 times lower than that of bottled waters.

The market value for bottled water was worth nearly £2 billion in 2007, but the pace of growth is expected to slow down as more environmentally aware consumers switch back to tap water.

By offering free tap water, restaurants, cafes and bars are allowing consumers to choose between expensive mineral water and free tap water outside of their home.

In order for them to make informed choices, CIWEM believes that the environmental and potential health impacts of bottled water should be made clear to consumers through better labelling.

CIWEM would also like to see an extension of access to free tap water in all public places.

CIWEM Executive Director, Nick Reeves, said: “Any place where people gather to consume food and drink should ditch the bottled stuff and switch to tap water.

“It’s cheaper, treated to a very high standard and is good for the environment. This should include the provision of tap water in public places, parks and spaces that were commonplace years ago.

“With the investment of technology and good public awareness campaigns, public water dispensers should be as common as cash points.”

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