Why is water pricier than milk?

Posted on 04 Apr 2011 in End Waste | 2 comments

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In a blog last month hiSbe asked “why is milk cheaper than water?” and shone a light on how dairy farmers are forced to sell milk for less than it costs them to produce it.

We got an interesting comment on this from Anthony in the hiSbe LinkedIn group discussion. He points out the influence of marketing on the price of water, saying, “marketing tells us water is pure and we must have it regularly, from a bottle,” even though “milk is certainly more expensive to produce per litre.”

So, the reverse question is “why is water pricier than milk?” because, as much as we are under-paying for milk, we are also over-paying for water!

An ex-chairmen of the Perrier Corporation once famously stated, “It struck me that all you had to do is take the water out of the ground and then sell it for more than the price of wine, milk, or, for that matter, oil”… and so here we are paying around 1,500 times more for a bottle of water than we do for water out of the tap!

Yes, the marketing of water has certainly been key to shaping our perception. Big food processing companies have invested a lot of effort and money to make water desirable: this 2 minute clip from a BBC documentary shows how the market began in 2001 and in only 10 years exploded into a multi-billion pound industry.

But whilst the bottled water industry arguably over-charges people for a basic commodity, there are other costs to consider when we buy water: we are also paying in other ways for the knock-on social and environmental cost.

Over the last 2-3 years the water industry has been shown to be wasting enormous levels of energy and oil to bottle and transport water around the world.

Then there are the problems associated with disposing of the plastic bottles.

For well researched info on this check out the Wikipedia entry on bottled water.

So if you want to think about paying what’s fair for water we’ve put together a list of ideas here to take into consideration both the price and the knock-on costs…

To help switch back from bottled water to tap water…

1. Get into the habit of asking for tap water in restaurants, which often automatically serve bottled water.

2. For water on the go use a refillable portable water carrier, like Onya, or one with a built-in filter, like The Bobble.

3. For home there are lots of easy pure water filter systems available. Some fit onto taps, but the easiest option is to get a filter jug, like the one from One Difference.

To switch to a bottled water brand that trades more responsibly…

1. These brands have charity arms that invest profits back into water projects around the world: One Difference, Life, Thirsty Planet and Frank.

2. These brands are bottled in UK and committed to achieving carbon-neutral or sustainable operations: Belu and Life.

3. Highland Spring and Campsie Spring are the only 2 big brands recommended by the Good Food Shopping Guide “as they have a very clean ethical record, are local to the UK and score very highly on the Ethical Company Index.”

Do you have any other ideas?


Photo made available by WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action programme

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  1. Lesley Cookman / April 5th, 2011 8:46

    I am proud to say I thought it was a con from the moment bottled water began to appear, and the only time I buy it is when on holiday in a remote area of Turkey.

    But more than the iniquitous and frankly barmy price of bottled water, I am concerned that our dairy farmers are in such danger.


  2. JN / June 15th, 2011 14:54

    this has certainly made me think hard about buying bottled water! The dairy market at the moment is unsustainable, the prices you quoted are cost, so not only are the majority of dairy farmers making a loss, the rest are not making any/much profit! Dairy farming may be a lifestyle choice but surely every business needs to make a profit? Otherwise, by definition, you are not a business, charity maybe! So smaller, family run dairies will eventually run out of overdraft and die and what then….something will fill the blackhole, but you can be assured that it will not be cow friendly, people friendly (jobs, investment in local services etc etc) or environmentally friendly. Maybe then the supermarkets will meet their match in the super dairies but by then it will be too late, we’ll reminisce about the days you saw black and white cows out in the field, when your local farmer helped out when the snow came and no-one could go anywhere, and our children and grandchildren will not only have no idea that milk doesn’t originate in a bottle but worse, they won’t care.


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