Worse water pollution = Rising price for bottled water

Published on Author taa16

Remember this shocking picture of the man we saw earlier this term?Villagers Pay The Price Of Success With Lead Poisoning

In fact, aching bones and swelling across the body are only two of many problems Chinese water consumers face because of alarming pollution. According to a recent report of China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, 60% of China’s groundwater is characterized as “bad” or “very bad”. More than half (17 of China’s 31 major freshwater lakes) are characterized as “polluted” (BusinessWeek). In 2009 the World Bank said water problems cost the country over 2% of GDP every year—mostly due to damage to health.

Hygiene and health concerns among China’s rising middle class have stoked demand as more migrate to cities, where water is more polluted and the bottled sort more common. In a country with just 7% of the world’s freshwater supplies but 20% of its population, cheaper bottles of water taken from river basins, lakes and underground, and of purified tap water, are even more popular than expensive mineral waters. In the past five years China’s guzzling of bottled water has almost doubled from 19 billion to 37 billion liters (Euromonitor). In 2013 China overtook the US as the biggest market for bottled water by volume.

Changbaishan_Waterfall3-TRHowever, due to lax regulations, few bottlers in China are likely to be using the sophisticated filtration technology that would rid their water of nasty metals and bugs. Last December, the authorities in Shanghai found that a quarter of bottled water sold locally—including by Hangzhou Wahaha—was contaminated with bacteria. But even national health inspectors are not required to check levels of mercury, silver or acidity though.

Consumers’ growing worries about what they are drinking are making them more prepared to pay high prices for water. Tibet 5100, the first Chinese-owned premium brand of spring water, has sold well since it set up in 2006. And Nongfu Spring this month launched three new pricey bottled waters, at a sleek event in the forest near Changbaishan. The photo pictures the fresh, clean, premium-priced waters of Changbaishan. As incomes rise, pollution worsens, and awareness grows about the risks of contaminated supplies, it is highly likely that Chinese consumers will keep trading up.




4 Responses to Worse water pollution = Rising price for bottled water

  1. If consumers avoid drinking or using tap water in cooking, then we should find comparatively high consumption of not just bottled water but also of other bottled beverages such as soda pop and beer. How does Coca-Cola fare in China? (Orange-flavored sodas such as Fanta are popular.) Carlsberg and SABMiller? If true, their annual reports ought to contain descriptions of their China businesses. [Disclaimer: I did look at the SABMiller annual report several years ago…]

  2. Like Professor Smitka mentioned this hike of prices for bottled water could cause an increase in the demand and consumption of the substitute goods such as Coca-Cola, Fanta, beer, all of which create problems of their own in terms of health issues. Even though these issues are not as disturbing or grotesque as those from the contaminated water, they can, and most likely will, cause a new shift in aspects of life for the Chinese. If the trend continues these substitutes will most likely cause weight issue as we have seen in America.

    • Sam, look for data, my recollection is that 17% of Chinese [too precise a number!] already have either elevated blood sugar or full-fledged diabetes. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the pharmaceutical firms specializing in diabetes provide this sort of data in their annual reports — even with only 10%, that still gives a target market of 140 million. The World Bank China 2030 volume may mention this. I don’t know how to search the public health literature, but I’m sure the science librarian could help you with that.

  3. The Economist article actually does mention that foreign firms still have small market shares and face intense competition from local premium brands such as Tibet 5100 and Nongfu Spring.
    “Coca-Cola’s waters (including Ice Dew, China’s biggest foreign-owned brand) have 5.6%. Danone of France, which used to be in a joint venture with Hangzhou Wahaha but now operates alone, is close behind with 5.5%. Nestlé of Switzerland has 1.8%”.