Rising bottled water consumption jeopardizes U.N. drinking water target: experts

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The rise in global bottled water consumption reflects governments’ failure to improve public water supply, jeopardizing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on safe drinking water by 2030, a U.N. expert group said on Thursday.

The bottled water market experienced a growth of 73% between 2010 and 2020, and consumption is on track to go from about 350,000 million liters in 2021 to 460,000 million liters in 2030, according to the Institute of Water, Environment and Health of the United Nations University (UNU).

“The increase in bottled water consumption reflects decades of limited progress and many failures in public water supply systems,” the institute’s director, Kaveh Madani, said in a statement.

The UN estimates that some 2.200 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and that the number of people with access only grew by 4% between 2016 and 2020.

Developing nations rely on bottled water to make up for this shortfall. Egypt, which is facing water shortages, was the fastest-growing market for treated bottled water from 2018 to 2021, according to the UNU report.

Singapore and Australia were the largest per capita consumers of bottled water, with 1,129 litres and 504 litres per year, respectively, according to the report. Malaysia led developing countries in per capita consumption, with just under 150 litres.

According to the report, more than one-third of Americans claim to consume bottled water as their primary source of water.

“Surprisingly, bottled water has grown tremendously in recent decades, while in the public and domestic supply of conventional, and more reliable drinking water, progress was slow,” said report co-author Vladimir Smakhtin of UNU-INWEH.

Meeting the UN’s sustainable development goal of providing safe drinking water by 2030 is therefore threatened, he said, noting that governments too often left the supply of safe drinking water to private actors.

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