Home/ News / India/  India’s booming packaged water industry and its problems, in charts

India was the 12th largest consumer of bottled water by value and the 14th biggest by volume in 2021, shows a new United Nations report released ahead of World Water Day on 22 March. In the mineral water segment, the country reported the second fastest growth rate after South Korea in the three years from 2018 to 2021, the report said.

India’s bottled mineral water market grew 27% per year during the period, while South Korea’s grew at a compounded annual growth rate of 28%. Mineral water is one of the most prevalent types of bottled water which is sourced from underground reservoirs.

The US, China and Indonesia were the three largest markets overall, accounting for nearly 40% of the total global sales of 350 billion litres in 2021. The global market was worth an estimated $270 billion that year and is expected to increase to $500 billion between 2025 and 2030, says the report. The paper was published by the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), a UN think tank on water.

Treated water is the most popular bottled water market by volume, making up 47% of the total. This is water that is treated and disinfected before being consumed. This category is dominated by developing countries, including India. Mineral water comes next, with a 33% share. The remaining covers bottled water from other natural sources (20%).

However, in terms of value, these three categories have a share of 28%, 22%, and 50%, respectively.

The leaders in natural waters are all from Europe, including Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and France. Till date, most high-income countries' tap water is generally of good quality and safe to drink with or without filtering while the other countries report of deteriorating water quality issues with public tap water, the report observed.

The report raises concerns about the fast-growing bottled water industry slowing down progress towards having access to safe water sources, which is a key sustainable development goal set by the UN.

The report highlights that bottled water consumption is popular in low- and middle-income countries because of a combination of factors, including unreliable and unsafe clean drinking water supplies, rising urbanization, and limited water delivery infrastructure in cities.

Bottled water consumption is also depleting groundwater levels, which is the primary source for packaged water bottles.

Plastic containers are by far the most common type of packaging in the bottled water industry. To be noted, plastic for packaging also dominates the use of plastics among other activities in 2019, as per the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data.

The ban on single-use plastic in India went into effect last year, but there has been little visible impact on the ground, and the recycling procedure used by packaged water corporations is unclear. According to a Central Pollution Control Board report, only half of the plastic generated in India is recycled.

The UNU-INWEH report says that plastic pollution associated with bottled water currently generates billions of plastic bottles every year, with much of the plastic waste not being recycled but disposed of in landfills. As per a UNEP report, over a million bottles are sold globally every minute, many of them contributing to the rise in single-use plastic litter. This highlights the need for environmentally friendly and economical alternatives to plastic bottles.

Manjul Paul
Manjul Paul is a data journalist. She joined Mint in October 2021. Previously, she worked witth the Reuters polling team in Bangalore as a correspondent for four years.
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Updated: 20 Mar 2023, 08:24 PM IST
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