Bottled water ! At what cost in hills ?   

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Bottled water ! At what cost in hills ?

Vipin Kumar

Dehradun , Dec 4

Uttarakhand a conscripted rendezvous of colossal peaks with meandering lush green meadows and alluring flowers of different colors and shades had been a place of tranquility. However, in the last two decades the verdant landscapes have been transformed into a pitiable state as plastic waste and litter tainted it in all imaginable shades and colors. The green slopes which sprawl across the tree line as the green canvas have been transformed to junkyards ! A mindless act of man.

The rejection of the mineral water oozing out from springs and glaciers and the increased trust in bottled water has added to the accumulation of such waste across the State, especially, in the mid- Himalayas the prized destination of the pilgrims. The idea of “safe water” has transformed our hinterlands into garbage dumps and dunes.

The “safe water” idea does not stop here and the use of disposable plastic crockery has further added to the miseries of the hills. Whether one is at a conglomeration of the solace seekers or a picnic the easily usable crockery which can be handled without rinsing is a favorite with the consumers. The result is waste and more waste.

waste water bottles

The increased consumption of bottled soft drinks and water automatically stimulates waste generation, the costs of which are externalized. Whereas, sealed water have steady consumers nowhere the responsibility of the bottler has been fixed. There is no such provision as a buy back system or refilling through dispensation of the same brand. The outcome is a “throw away” after one time use without realizing that there is “no away”.

One litre of mineral water bottle weighs about 25 to 30 grams thereby making 40numbers in a kilogram. On a normal sunny day while trekking into the mountains a person consumes about 1 litre of water per kilometer. It implies longer the road the more the generation of such waste. The pertinent question is who collects it and at what cost ?

The multinational and the domestic companies as well ,hardly bother for the costs in terms of environmental degradation and the long term impact of such material on the landscapes. The argument of light weight packings in contrast to glass and saving fossil fuel costs while transporting such material from the bottling plant to the manufacturer  may be true up to some extent but such a benefit is diluted by the cost of collection and scientific end use disposal. Further, in the absence of a collection system in place , burning of such waste adds dioxins to the atmosphere a price which even the non-consumers of such water have to pay.

waste water bottles collected near a stream in the hills.

The plastic manufacturers guarantee non corrosive packing for preventing contamination of water, but, they have failed to realize that the impact of deposition of such waste depletes the ground water table . The perennial springs are the only source of potable water in the hills and as such the impact is felt downstream where most of the springs have either dried or have been reduced to a trickle. If one was to calculate the costs there exists no standardized scale to assess the impact.

The mineral water bottling companies need to place dispensers on way to the hills so that refilling can minimize waste generation. As an innovation the trek routes need to be augmented in the first phase with a back up strategy for tourist destinations. The possibility for installing and refilling through Reverse osmosis plants also needs to be explored. The leaf molded crockery should substitute one time used plastic crockery. It is also important that the bottling companies internalize costs of waste collection and disposal through “extended producer’s responsibility” as a step forward to abide with the “polluters pay principle”.

(Vipin Kumar is an eminent environmentalist who has worked on Garbage management in the Himalayan region.)

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