On my way back from Scotland I stopped for diesel and some food/drink. I was struck (not for the first time) by the stupendous cost of water in a service station. What galled me this time was an offer on two 75cl bottles. One cost £1.79, but you could get two for £2.79. That second bottle, at £1.33 a litre, was considerably more expensive than petrol or diesel, despite the enormous cost of production and the huge tax. It was also twice as expensive than milk – I bought a litre of semi-skimmed milk at the same place for 99p.
I also noted this at a restaurant that Sara and I went to last week. We had a lovely meal, and in the grand scheme of things 2 bottles of water at a fiver each aren’t the end of the world. But, in both cases I wonder how we have built up such an industry in bottling what comes out of the tap. Time was when the tap water wasn’t always safe, and filters (for those who want absolute purity) didn’t exist economically, so I can understand why the industry started. But, I don’t really know why it continues to exist. When you factor in the transport costs, and the plastic bottles it feels utterly wasteful.
One parallel in my mind is speaker cable. There is an industry in exotic speaker cables, costing many pounds a metre (sometimes tens of pounds a metre). It is largely a waste of money. Any cable with enough cross-sectional area will do – for example ordinary mains cable. But, the existence of the high-price cables makes people feel that there must be some value. Moreover, the profit to be made on the cable means it is not in the interest of shops to educate the buyer.
I am a firm believer in the free market, and clearly like most people have a choice not to buy water (I could be planned and bring it!). But, I worry that the power of advertising combined with a lack of critical reasoning skills, is such that a pointless and highly environmentally wasteful industry can thrive. I wonder how many others there are?