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Bottled Water and Water Shops

Many bottled water consumers live in nations with modern tap water systems yet choose to pay a large premium—up to 1000 times the cost of tap water—for bottled water. The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of bottled water, while Italians drink more per person than anyone else.

Increasingly, people in the developing world have come to depend upon bottled water to supply their needs. Between 1999 and 2004, per capita bottled water use doubled in China and tripled in India.

Water shops are privately-owned businesses that fill a similar niche to bottled water’s—clean, constant water supply to areas suffering from unreliable or nonexistent municipal distribution systems. These shops acquire their water from a variety of sources, including private wells and municipal water systems. They sell this water at a premium to customers who must then transport it from the shop to their homes in their own containers.

Both bottled water and water from water shops vary greatly in quality. Some bottled water, including some brands popular in developed nations, is natural spring water.

Other sources of bottled and water shop supplies are wells and even municipal water systems. Sometimes these waters are treated and improved before sale, other times they may not be.

In some cases, even untreated or contaminated water may be sold in bottles or through water shops. Additionally, bottled water is extremely expensive. While the water itself is produced at a low price, labor, plastic bottles, transportation, and marketing add to the cost of bottled water. There are also environmental costs. Plastic bottles are made from oil and natural gas, which are both nonrenewable resources. Further, most plastic bottles are not recycled and this can create a serious disposal problem.

Both bottled water and water shops are similar in being market-driven businesses. They fill the need caused by inadequate municipal systems and charge prices that will typically rise to whatever the consumer market will bear. For poor people, these costs can be disproportionately high compared to what their wealthier counterparts pay for municipal service.

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