for National Geographic News
A bottle of spring or mineral water has become the lifestyle accessory of the health-conscious. No longer a luxury item, the beverage has become a common sight worldwide.
But according to campaigners, the planet's health may be suffering as a result.
A new report warns that people's thirst for bottled water is producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy, even in areas where perfectly good drinking water is available on tap.
The report, released earlier this month by the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), says global consumption of bottled water doubled between 1999 and 2004, reaching 41 billion gallons (154 billion liters) annually.
Bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, but it can be 10,000 times more expensive, says Emily Arnold, a researcher with the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit.
"At as much as $2.50 [U.S.] per liter [$10 U.S. a gallon], bottled water costs more than gasoline," she said.
Most of this extra cost is driven by transportation and packaging.
"Nearly a quarter of all bottled water crosses national borders to reach consumers," Arnold said.
The report gives the example of one company in Helsinki, Finland, that in 2004 shipped 1.4 million bottles of Finnish tap water to Saudi Arabia2,700 miles (4,300 kilometers) away.
Well-known French brands Evian and Volvic export between 50 and 60 percent of their water to destinations across the globe.
The report lists the U.S. as the world's biggest drinker of bottled water, consuming 7 billion gallons (26 billion liters) annually. Mexico has the second highest consumption, followed by China and Brazil.
Italians drink the most per person, equivalent to about two glasses a day.
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