The Two Oceans Aquarium is opposed to the purchasing of bottled water under most circumstances. The manufacture of bottled water is a wasteful process, often squandering our precious water resources and potentially creating a huge plastic pollution problem.

However, we can appreciate that in certain circumstances, such as the ongoing Cape Town drought crisis, a stockpile of water is desirable - so here is some advice for the stockpiling of bottled water that can minimise your impact.

Except in exceptional circumstances, bottled water is a no-go. Rather make use of a reusable water bottle, like the locally manufactured Consol Glass Grip & Go.

The best option

Off the bat, we can tell you that the least wasteful option for a stockpile of drinking water is simple: Buy reusable water containers and fill them using part of your daily allocation of 50L, fill them from a non-municipal water source (i.e. Newlands spring or a friend's filtered wellpoint) or fill them outside of Cape Town if you travel often. Please remember that it is illegal to stockpile municipal tap water outside of your daily allocation. "If you are using or stockpiling municipal water above your allocation, it is an illegal act and doing so will bring Day Zero closer again," said Xanthea Limberg of the Mayoral Committee.

We've all seen queues for bottled water like this, but is this really the best way to stockpile water? Photo courtesy of City of Cape Town via IOL.

Making use of reusable containers in this way actually saves water and creates less pollution, as you'll see later. Furthermore, imagine you pay R5 for a "cheap" bottle of water - that is more than 330 times the price of tap water in Cape Town (and it is even more than 25 times the price of water if you are paying Cape Town's maximum drought penalty tariff)! That doesn't make much sense right?

Choosing bottled water that doesn't waste water

A lot of the bottled water is simply municipal tap water that has been filtered, sometimes with a few mineral additives. To produce a single one litre water bottle, it can take as much as 26 litres to manufacture the bottle itself, and three more litres to fill it! Seems a little wasteful right? If this type of water is manufactured in the Cape, buying it is actually making the drought situation worse. That's rather ironic...

Avoid bottled water that says "municipal source", "reverse osmosis", "RO", "prepared water", "distilled water" or "filtered water" - instead, ensure the bottle says "natural mineral water", "natural water" or "spring water" (all natural, groundwater sources). If you do choose to buy bottled water, buy natural spring water, or filtered water that is manufactured outside of water-stressed regions. Fortunately, in this instance, most of the major bottled water brands do source their water from outside of Cape Town.

This bottle's label says "purified by reverse osmosis", implying that it is from a municipal water source. If you buy bottled water with a label like this for your stockpile, ensure that it was manufactured in an area that is not water-stressed. Image source: Sweetly Simple's Blog.

If you do come across a brand that looks "sketchy", but claims to be from a natural source, check the bottle for the SANBWA logo - this organisation certifies whether a bottled water's source is as advertised.

Remember the SANBWA logo (third from the left) is an assurance that the bottle's water source is as indicated - in this case we know it came from a spring. If you are curious, the BD FS UC logo means the product is Kosher, and the SABS logo means that the product meets required minimum government standards (not that it is necessarily eco-friendly).

Creating the least waste

If you choose to buy bottled water for your stockpile, you can minimise plastic waste by buying the biggest bottles possible. Rather than buying a case of 24x 330ml bottles, rather buy two 5L bottles. Not only are those two bottles likely cheaper, they contain more water, use less plastic and they provide a cool bottle that you may want to reuse (reducing plastic even further)!

How long can you keep your bottle of water?

Most South African bottled water manufacturers print a best-before date on their bottles - usually about a year. However, studies by the International Bottled Water Association have indicated that as long as the bottles remain sealed, are not made of inferior plastic and are stored out of direct sunlight, they can last indefinitely. If you do not use your water stockpile during this drought, keep it handy in your garage - you never know when your water might stop running.

Where can you dispose of your bottles?

Discarded water bottles should be recycled, please take care not to simply throw them in the bin. PET is readily recycled in South Africa, but this can only happen if you make sure your bottle ends up at the recycling plant, not in the landfill.

Image courtesy of PETCO.

Here is some advice from major recycler PETCO:

  • When re-using PET bottles for water storage, please ensure that they are clean. PET bottles are safe for use and reuse so long as they are washed properly with detergent and a little water to remove bacteria, as you would any other container.
  • When dropping PET bottles off for recycling, there is no need to wash them.
  • Please do not throw the bottles away when you are finally finished using them – bottles should never be sent to landfill sites or end up as litter in the environment. PET bottles are fully recyclable when basic design principles are followed.
  • Take your bottles to one of the City of Cape Town drop-off facilities where they will be sent to PETCO Member Companies for recycling.
  • Please leave the caps on, as these are also recyclable, and we don’t want them ending up as litter in our beautiful city.

In 2016, PETCO reported that approximately 55% of all PET bottles produced in South Africa are recycled, a fantastic achievement indeed. However, that 45% that does not reach a recycling facility inevitably pollutes our environment.

However this drought progresses, we will get through it eventually. Let's work together to make sure we don't create another, longer-term, environmental catastrophe while we are trying to deal with this one!

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