• Features
  • Updated: March 17, 2023

Bottled Water Industries: Billion Profits, Yet Billions Without Drinking Water

According to goal 6 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, all water sustainability initiatives must be geared toward ensuring access to water and sanitation for all.

Indeed, access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene is the most basic human need for health and well-being.

Billions of people will lack access to these basic services in 2030 unless progress quadruples.

Demand for water is rising owing to rapid population growth, urbanization, and increasing water needs from the agriculture, industry, and energy sectors.

Decades of misuse, poor management, over-extraction of groundwater, and contamination of freshwater supplies have exacerbated water stress.

In addition, countries are facing growing challenges linked to degraded water-related ecosystems, water scarcity caused by climate change, underinvestment in water and sanitation, and insufficient cooperation on transboundary waters.

To reach universal access to drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene by 2030, the current rates of progress would need to increase fourfold.

Achieving these targets would save 829,000 people annually, who die from diseases directly attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene practices.

To What Extent Can We Say Bottled Water Industries Are Partners In The UN SDG?

Although debatable, the rapid and continued growth of the $270 billion bottled water industry is undermining international development goals to provide universal access to safe drinking water, according to a report by the University Institute of United States for water, environment, and health.

The bottled water industry “saw” its profits grow by 73% between 2010 and 2020 and is set to double again to $500 billion by 2030, according to the report published on Thursday, which is based on an analysis of literature and data from 109 countries.

It comes the week before World Water Day (March 22) and the convening of a water conference in New York, Bloomberg reports.

Bottled Water Deals and a “Flood” of Investments in a Market where Millions are Flowing

It was in 2015 that the UN adopted a set of Sustainable Development Goals, one of which (goal 6) is to provide universal access to safe drinking water.

In 2020, it was estimated that 2 billion people worldwide still lacked safely managed drinking water.

The authors find that the growth of the bottled water industry slows progress toward the goals by “distracting development efforts and redirecting attention to a less reliable and less affordable option.”

Part of this is the misallocation of resources.

Providing safe water to about 2 billion people would require an annual investment of $114 billion, the report says, or less than half of what is now spent each year on bottled water.

Zeineb Bouhlel, the lead author, said companies selling water also use marketing to undermine faith in public systems.

“Even if in some countries piped water is or can be of good quality, restoring public confidence in tap water is likely to require significant improvements in marketing.”

While it is true that the water of some municipal systems is unsafe – largely due to underinvestment in infrastructure – the quality of bottled water varies greatly in content between brands and even within the same brand in different countries.

Bottled water is also subject to less rigorous quality testing than public water and is therefore not as safe as the public perceives it to be, the report said.

Worse, the industry is often not transparent about how much water it draws from public or local water systems.

For example, Nestle Waters, a division of Nestle SA, extracts 3 million litres a day from the Florida springs, taking 4.1 litres to produce a 1-litre bottle of water for sale, according to the researchers.

Plastic Waste

Additionally, plastic packaging water bottles have become a major waste problem.

The industry produced about 600 billion plastic bottles in 2021 alone, or about 25 million tons of plastic waste, much of which ends up in rivers and oceans and contributes to the extinction of rare species of flora and fauna, as well as the spread of microplastics.

A separate study published in Frontiers in Sustainability this week found that with machine learning, visual sorters at recycling centres could learn to separate biodegradable plastics from regular plastics, an important first step if plastic bottles are eventually replaced by a more viable option.


The core mandate of NGOs and global monitors like WaterAid, UN, etc. is to make drinking water as well as sanitation and hygiene facilities a common utility that is both affordable and accessible to everyone everywhere.

However, the advent of the packaged water industry into the water ecosystem is purely for profit and capitalist motives and not necessarily for humanitarian purposes.

This simply means that 'diversionary initiatives' from these organizations serve to funnel away part of funds and donations for UN Goal 6 and other such sustainable water goals.

This is despite the fact that quality assurance tests for such mass-produced water are hardly rigorous to guarantee the water's potability and in addition to contributory wastes from the plastic packaging materials.

In the end, there are still billions of people lacking access to drinking water which defeats the SDG goals for the year 2030.

Considering the criticality of the situation urgent solutions are highly needed at this time.

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Eben Duru
Eben Duru

 My name is Eben and I am from Lagos, Nigeria. I am currently a writer at AllNews Nigeria. I’m...

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