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Episode
65

Bottled Water

First published on
June 23, 2020
How Stuff Works
-
22
minutes
Consumption
Environment
Marketing
Advertising
Food & drink

It's now the most popular soft drink in the United States.

Yet 50 years ago barely anyone drunk it.

Today, we tell the story of how the world became addicted to bottled water.

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Transcript

[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English - the show where you can listen to interesting stories and learn fascinating things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about bottled water.

[00:00:28] It is a fascinating story and takes us from the Romans to the Victorians, to the modern day, and is a prime example of the power of marketing and advertising, of how hundreds of millions of people pay large amounts of money for something that they can often get for free,and how water throughout the ages has been a status symbol.

[00:00:58] I've wanted to do this episode for a while, so I'm thrilled to be sharing it with you today. 

[00:01:05] So let's start, as we often do, with a bit of history. 

[00:01:11] Of course, humans and animals have drunk water forever. 

[00:01:16] Up to 60% of our body is water, and we need it to survive. 

[00:01:22] And historically before the development of large cities and urban settlements, when we would drink water, this water would come from rivers, streams, springs, or wells

[00:01:37] As people started to live in ever larger communities, the danger of water not being safe to drink increased, but there really wasn't any way to make the water itself safer.

[00:01:52] So in Europe at least, those who could afford to used to go to spa towns to take the water, places where there were natural spas and springs and people could go for a period of time for supposed health reasons. 

[00:02:12] The British town Bath, otherwise known as Bath Spa, is named so because of its spa, where the Romans used to go and bathe and drink the refreshing waters. 

[00:02:26] And because in towns and villages, the water wasn't safe to drink, instead people would drink other safer drinks that had been processed in various ways. 

[00:02:40] In Europe, things like beer and wine. 

[00:02:43] In China and parts of East Asia, tea.

[00:02:48] But as the popularity of going to the spa continued to increase for people living in urban areas, there was the demand for some way of bringing spa water back to the cities and towns. 

[00:03:05] And it's here that we first encounter bottled water. 

[00:03:11] One of the first instances of bottled water was in the year 1621 at a place called Holy Well in the west of England.

[00:03:22] They bottled spa water, and distributed it throughout Britain. 

[00:03:29] This water was fizzy water, it was effervescent

[00:03:34] People drank it for its supposed health benefits, but also because they liked the taste. 

[00:03:43] It was a tiny industry though - this was before the industrial revolution and there really wasn't any way of mass producing the stuff.

[00:03:53] It was a luxury that only the richest in society could afford. 

[00:04:00] Over the next few hundred years, as innovation led to a reduction in the cost of producing water, and there was an increasing amount of health concerns about drinking water from public supplies, the bottled water industry continued to grow and grow. 

[00:04:21] Bottles became cheaper and safer, and throughout Europe and North America sales grew every year. 

[00:04:31] However, the success and growth of bottled water hit a bit of a roadblock, its growth slowed. 

[00:04:40] The reason for this was that in the early 20th century, it was discovered that adding chlorine to the water supply would kill a lot of bacteria and that this was a cheap and effective way of making the water safe to drink.

[00:04:59] Suddenly people realised that the water that came from the municipal supplies was good, it was safe to drink. 

[00:05:08] And it was free, or if it wasn't completely free, it was very, very cheap. 

[00:05:15] In North America, the sales of bottled water plummeted, they reduced drastically. 

[00:05:23] Understandably, people could get it for free, so why would they pay for it? 

[00:05:30] In Europe, bottled water remained a bit of a status symbol, something that was sold in cafes and restaurants, especially on the continent, in continental Europe. 

[00:05:44] In the late 20th century, though, everything changed again for bottled water. 

[00:05:51] There was a very famous marketing campaign in 1977, by Perrier, the French fizzy water company. 

[00:06:00] It was by the actor and filmmaker Orson Welles. 

[00:06:06] I'm actually going to play it here, it's only 30 seconds. 

[00:06:11] So here we go, listen to the advert that changed the fate of bottled water forever.

[00:06:18] Orson Welles:[00:06:18] " Deep below the Plains of Southern France, in a mysterious process, begun millions of years ago, nature herself adds life to the icy waters of a single spring, Perrier. 

[00:06:32] Its natural sparkle is more delicate than any made by man and therefore more quenching, more refreshing, and the mixer par excellence. 

[00:06:40] Naturally sparkling, from the center of the earth, Perrier. 

[00:06:48] Alastair Budge:[00:06:48] So there we go. 

[00:06:51] If you didn't get everything there, he is describing how this amazing water comes from deep under Southern France and how it is made by nature herself. 

[00:07:04] This advert positioned this water as the ultimate status symbol

[00:07:11] It was expensive, at today's equivalent of around $3 a bottle.

[00:07:17] But not so expensive that it was completely out of reach to America's aspiring middle class. 

[00:07:26] This coincided with a shift in North America and Europe away from drinking strong alcohol during the day. 

[00:07:35] Previously, it had been socially acceptable to drink whisky and brandy and all sorts of spirits at the office.

[00:07:44] But this was becoming less and less acceptable. 

[00:07:49] If you've watched the series Mad Men, you will, of course know exactly what I'm talking about. 

[00:07:56] Drinking something like Perrier, or if I'm an American, I should say Perrier, showed that you were serious. 

[00:08:03] It showed you cared about your health and it showed that you were an aspirational person.

[00:08:11] But it wasn't really about what was inside the bottle, but it was the bottle itself. 

[00:08:18] The bottle showed what you wanted to be. 

[00:08:22] Sales skyrocketed

[00:08:25] It went from selling 3 million bottles in 1975 to 200 million just four years later. 

[00:08:34] Americans were loving it. 

[00:08:38] But remember, this was still fizzy water. 

[00:08:41] This idea of buying bottled plain water, when you could get the same normal water out of the tap was still quite strange.

[00:08:54] As companies saw the growing popularity of fizzy water and saw how they could persuade consumers to do almost anything through large advertising campaigns, they came for plain water, they came for tap water. 

[00:09:14] In the early 200s there was a series of campaigns that preyed on people's fears, they capitalised on the fears that people had about tap water. 

[00:09:26] They tried to get people to be afraid of drinking water from the tap, and instead to buy bottled water. 

[00:09:35] There were famous advertising campaigns with taglines like "tap and toilet water come from the same source, don't you deserve better?" 

[00:09:48] And sales of normal flat, bottled water, they really started to take off.

[00:09:54] Despite the fact that in most of North America and large parts of Europe water from the tap is just as safe as bottled water, people were understandably concerned when someone made them think about their toilet and drinking water in the same sentence.

[00:10:14] And as there has been increasing levels of concern about the dangers of drinking lots of sugary drinks, of soda, Coke, and so on, bottled water has continued its ascent, it has continued to rise in popularity. 

[00:10:31] Bottled water is now the most popular drink in North America, and this is in a country where you can get the same thing from the tap practically for free. 

[00:10:44] Of course it's not just in North America and Europe. 

[00:10:47] The US is actually the second largest consumer market for bottled water after China. 

[00:10:56] But in China, there is a perfectly good reason to drink bottled water, at least from a consumer point of view.

[00:11:04] And that is that the water that you get from the taps in China just isn't safe. 

[00:11:11] Even in Shanghai, which if you've been there you'll know is a huge futuristic metropolis, 85% of the water in its major rivers was considered undrinkable, and 56% of it was considered unfit for any purpose, so they can't use it for anything. 

[00:11:35] In Beijing, 40% of all water sources are so polluted that they basically just can't be used, and in Tianjin, a huge port city in the North of China, less than 5% of the water can be used as a source of drinking water. 

[00:11:57] So of course, in lots of countries, drinking water from the tap just isn't an option - you have to drink bottled water. 

[00:12:07] But coming back to bottled water in places where there is perfectly good tap water, it is a really interesting phenomenon, that people pay to get something that they can get almost for free, that also has the advantage of having a significantly lower environmental impact. 

[00:12:30] A study from the WWF, the world wildlife fund, found that more than 50% of the US population drinks bottled water and people spend from 240 to over 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water than they typically do for tap water. 

[00:12:53] So it can cost 10,000 times more to buy pretty much exactly the same thing, but Americans still spend around $16 billion on bottled water every single year. 

[00:13:09] This study said that if you drink eight glasses of water per day, a year's supply of normal bottled water would cost approximately $200, and the same amount of tap water would cost about 33 cents. 

[00:13:27] To repeat, that is $200 versus 33 cents. 

[00:13:33] Now most of us are conditioned to think that bottled water is better - it's healthier, safer and tastier than what comes out of a tap. 

[00:13:45] Of course it must be - you pay for it, therefore it must be better, right? 

[00:13:51] In some cases, this is true. 

[00:13:54] Some places have water that has more chemicals in it, or has a strange taste. 

[00:13:59] But in the vast majority of cases in North America and in Europe, at least, there is very little evidence to suggest that there is any difference.

[00:14:12] There have been lots of experiments where people are given different types of water - some very expensive water from bottles and some water just from the tap, from the main supplies, the same water that goes into your toilet. 

[00:14:28] And not only can most people not tell the difference, but from a health perspective, there is no difference.

[00:14:38] In many cases, the bottled water that has the lovely logo, the lovely name and that you might think has been lovingly put into a bottle at the top of a glacier is actually just the same water as the water that comes from the tap, but has been slightly treated by a company, put in a bottle and then sold for up to 10,000 times more than they bought it for.

[00:15:07] Not everyone is falling for this trick though. 

[00:15:11] When Coca Cola tried to launch their own brand of bottled water in the UK called Dasani, it was a complete flop, it was a complete disaster. 

[00:15:23] They used the same approach, the same formula as had worked in the United States, which was just add some minerals to tap water and put it in a bottle with a large price tag.

[00:15:38] What they hadn't realised is that there is a famous scene in a British comedy series called Only Fools and Horses where one of the main characters tries to sell water from the tap in a bottle for a huge profit. 

[00:15:57] When it was revealed that the water that Coca-Cola was selling for around a dollar a bottle was just slightly treated tap water, there was a huge uproar in the British press, in the British newspapers, and a lot of comparisons made between Coca-Cola and this character from Only Fools and Horses, this famous British comedy. 

[00:16:23] Just three months after launching Dasani was removed from sale in Great Britain and Coca Cola didn't return to the British bottled water market for 10 years. 

[00:16:37] Even though this might all be an interesting idea to think about theoretically, it obviously has an environmental cost as well. 

[00:16:48] The world will produce over half a trillion plastic bottles next year. 

[00:16:54] Fewer than half of the bottles bought are ever even collected for recycling, and only 7% of the bottles that are collected for recycling are turned into new bottles. 

[00:17:08] Most of them have a life of about an hour or so when they are opened drunk, and then they end up in the rubbish dump or in the ocean, as we talked about on another recent episode. 

[00:17:24] And unlike most other plastic waste, whether that's shampoo, toothpaste or food packaging, for many people there is an alternative to bottled water that is right in front of us and significantly less expensive. 

[00:17:41] Yet hundreds of millions of people choose not to use it.

[00:17:46] What I do think is a really interesting idea though, and it's what we will end with today is how water has been a status symbol for hundreds of years. 

[00:18:01] It's something that everyone on the planet needs to drink, and therefore the kind of water we drink is to a certain extent, a way of showing your identity, of showing how you're different from other people. 

[00:18:16] Hundreds of years ago, it might have been a visit to a spa town to show that you care about your health, but also just showing yourself there, drinking this water - you wanted to be seen at a spa town, as it said something about who you were and the kinds of people that you socialised with.

[00:18:38] Then 40 years ago, it was drinking a chilled glass of Perrier with a slice of lemon to show that you meant business - you weren't going to be drinking whisky at lunch, you drunk Perrier because you were an important business person. 

[00:18:56] And now in 2020, it might be drinking fancy flavoured water to show that you are healthy and you care about your wellbeing. 

[00:19:07] Or it might be just drinking normal, bottled water because you can afford it, and perhaps you just want to show that you can't afford to take risks with water from the tap. 

[00:19:19] The reasons might change, but we still drink certain types of water often because we want to show who we are.

[00:19:28] Of course, for the billions of people all over the world who don't have access to clean drinking water from taps, bottled water is an amazing invention and necessity for daily life. 

[00:19:42] It's not going to give you cholera or be filled with disease, it is cheap and convenient, and that is a fantastic thing. 

[00:19:53] But for those of us who do have access to healthy, clean drinking water from our taps available at a very small cost, I think if you went back to someone 50 years ago, before that famous advert had come out and explained that now we are all buying bottled water, that is really not so different to the stuff that we get out of our taps, well, I think they would probably find that quite surprising. 

[00:20:25] Okay then, that is it for bottled water. 

[00:20:30] It is a really interesting idea, and with my marketing hat on, it does sort of show that we can be persuaded to do almost anything. 

[00:20:41] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:20:45] I know we have members from some countries where the water from the tap is delicious and completely fine.

[00:20:51] I know we have members from countries where the water from the tap is not so good. 

[00:20:57] And I also know that we have members from countries where drinking water from the tap or asking for tap water is not really a culturally acceptable thing to do. 

[00:21:08] So I would love to know what you think, as always you can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:17] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:21:22] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


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[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English - the show where you can listen to interesting stories and learn fascinating things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about bottled water.

[00:00:28] It is a fascinating story and takes us from the Romans to the Victorians, to the modern day, and is a prime example of the power of marketing and advertising, of how hundreds of millions of people pay large amounts of money for something that they can often get for free,and how water throughout the ages has been a status symbol.

[00:00:58] I've wanted to do this episode for a while, so I'm thrilled to be sharing it with you today. 

[00:01:05] So let's start, as we often do, with a bit of history. 

[00:01:11] Of course, humans and animals have drunk water forever. 

[00:01:16] Up to 60% of our body is water, and we need it to survive. 

[00:01:22] And historically before the development of large cities and urban settlements, when we would drink water, this water would come from rivers, streams, springs, or wells

[00:01:37] As people started to live in ever larger communities, the danger of water not being safe to drink increased, but there really wasn't any way to make the water itself safer.

[00:01:52] So in Europe at least, those who could afford to used to go to spa towns to take the water, places where there were natural spas and springs and people could go for a period of time for supposed health reasons. 

[00:02:12] The British town Bath, otherwise known as Bath Spa, is named so because of its spa, where the Romans used to go and bathe and drink the refreshing waters. 

[00:02:26] And because in towns and villages, the water wasn't safe to drink, instead people would drink other safer drinks that had been processed in various ways. 

[00:02:40] In Europe, things like beer and wine. 

[00:02:43] In China and parts of East Asia, tea.

[00:02:48] But as the popularity of going to the spa continued to increase for people living in urban areas, there was the demand for some way of bringing spa water back to the cities and towns. 

[00:03:05] And it's here that we first encounter bottled water. 

[00:03:11] One of the first instances of bottled water was in the year 1621 at a place called Holy Well in the west of England.

[00:03:22] They bottled spa water, and distributed it throughout Britain. 

[00:03:29] This water was fizzy water, it was effervescent

[00:03:34] People drank it for its supposed health benefits, but also because they liked the taste. 

[00:03:43] It was a tiny industry though - this was before the industrial revolution and there really wasn't any way of mass producing the stuff.

[00:03:53] It was a luxury that only the richest in society could afford. 

[00:04:00] Over the next few hundred years, as innovation led to a reduction in the cost of producing water, and there was an increasing amount of health concerns about drinking water from public supplies, the bottled water industry continued to grow and grow. 

[00:04:21] Bottles became cheaper and safer, and throughout Europe and North America sales grew every year. 

[00:04:31] However, the success and growth of bottled water hit a bit of a roadblock, its growth slowed. 

[00:04:40] The reason for this was that in the early 20th century, it was discovered that adding chlorine to the water supply would kill a lot of bacteria and that this was a cheap and effective way of making the water safe to drink.

[00:04:59] Suddenly people realised that the water that came from the municipal supplies was good, it was safe to drink. 

[00:05:08] And it was free, or if it wasn't completely free, it was very, very cheap. 

[00:05:15] In North America, the sales of bottled water plummeted, they reduced drastically. 

[00:05:23] Understandably, people could get it for free, so why would they pay for it? 

[00:05:30] In Europe, bottled water remained a bit of a status symbol, something that was sold in cafes and restaurants, especially on the continent, in continental Europe. 

[00:05:44] In the late 20th century, though, everything changed again for bottled water. 

[00:05:51] There was a very famous marketing campaign in 1977, by Perrier, the French fizzy water company. 

[00:06:00] It was by the actor and filmmaker Orson Welles. 

[00:06:06] I'm actually going to play it here, it's only 30 seconds. 

[00:06:11] So here we go, listen to the advert that changed the fate of bottled water forever.

[00:06:18] Orson Welles:[00:06:18] " Deep below the Plains of Southern France, in a mysterious process, begun millions of years ago, nature herself adds life to the icy waters of a single spring, Perrier. 

[00:06:32] Its natural sparkle is more delicate than any made by man and therefore more quenching, more refreshing, and the mixer par excellence. 

[00:06:40] Naturally sparkling, from the center of the earth, Perrier. 

[00:06:48] Alastair Budge:[00:06:48] So there we go. 

[00:06:51] If you didn't get everything there, he is describing how this amazing water comes from deep under Southern France and how it is made by nature herself. 

[00:07:04] This advert positioned this water as the ultimate status symbol

[00:07:11] It was expensive, at today's equivalent of around $3 a bottle.

[00:07:17] But not so expensive that it was completely out of reach to America's aspiring middle class. 

[00:07:26] This coincided with a shift in North America and Europe away from drinking strong alcohol during the day. 

[00:07:35] Previously, it had been socially acceptable to drink whisky and brandy and all sorts of spirits at the office.

[00:07:44] But this was becoming less and less acceptable. 

[00:07:49] If you've watched the series Mad Men, you will, of course know exactly what I'm talking about. 

[00:07:56] Drinking something like Perrier, or if I'm an American, I should say Perrier, showed that you were serious. 

[00:08:03] It showed you cared about your health and it showed that you were an aspirational person.

[00:08:11] But it wasn't really about what was inside the bottle, but it was the bottle itself. 

[00:08:18] The bottle showed what you wanted to be. 

[00:08:22] Sales skyrocketed

[00:08:25] It went from selling 3 million bottles in 1975 to 200 million just four years later. 

[00:08:34] Americans were loving it. 

[00:08:38] But remember, this was still fizzy water. 

[00:08:41] This idea of buying bottled plain water, when you could get the same normal water out of the tap was still quite strange.

[00:08:54] As companies saw the growing popularity of fizzy water and saw how they could persuade consumers to do almost anything through large advertising campaigns, they came for plain water, they came for tap water. 

[00:09:14] In the early 200s there was a series of campaigns that preyed on people's fears, they capitalised on the fears that people had about tap water. 

[00:09:26] They tried to get people to be afraid of drinking water from the tap, and instead to buy bottled water. 

[00:09:35] There were famous advertising campaigns with taglines like "tap and toilet water come from the same source, don't you deserve better?" 

[00:09:48] And sales of normal flat, bottled water, they really started to take off.

[00:09:54] Despite the fact that in most of North America and large parts of Europe water from the tap is just as safe as bottled water, people were understandably concerned when someone made them think about their toilet and drinking water in the same sentence.

[00:10:14] And as there has been increasing levels of concern about the dangers of drinking lots of sugary drinks, of soda, Coke, and so on, bottled water has continued its ascent, it has continued to rise in popularity. 

[00:10:31] Bottled water is now the most popular drink in North America, and this is in a country where you can get the same thing from the tap practically for free. 

[00:10:44] Of course it's not just in North America and Europe. 

[00:10:47] The US is actually the second largest consumer market for bottled water after China. 

[00:10:56] But in China, there is a perfectly good reason to drink bottled water, at least from a consumer point of view.

[00:11:04] And that is that the water that you get from the taps in China just isn't safe. 

[00:11:11] Even in Shanghai, which if you've been there you'll know is a huge futuristic metropolis, 85% of the water in its major rivers was considered undrinkable, and 56% of it was considered unfit for any purpose, so they can't use it for anything. 

[00:11:35] In Beijing, 40% of all water sources are so polluted that they basically just can't be used, and in Tianjin, a huge port city in the North of China, less than 5% of the water can be used as a source of drinking water. 

[00:11:57] So of course, in lots of countries, drinking water from the tap just isn't an option - you have to drink bottled water. 

[00:12:07] But coming back to bottled water in places where there is perfectly good tap water, it is a really interesting phenomenon, that people pay to get something that they can get almost for free, that also has the advantage of having a significantly lower environmental impact. 

[00:12:30] A study from the WWF, the world wildlife fund, found that more than 50% of the US population drinks bottled water and people spend from 240 to over 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water than they typically do for tap water. 

[00:12:53] So it can cost 10,000 times more to buy pretty much exactly the same thing, but Americans still spend around $16 billion on bottled water every single year. 

[00:13:09] This study said that if you drink eight glasses of water per day, a year's supply of normal bottled water would cost approximately $200, and the same amount of tap water would cost about 33 cents. 

[00:13:27] To repeat, that is $200 versus 33 cents. 

[00:13:33] Now most of us are conditioned to think that bottled water is better - it's healthier, safer and tastier than what comes out of a tap. 

[00:13:45] Of course it must be - you pay for it, therefore it must be better, right? 

[00:13:51] In some cases, this is true. 

[00:13:54] Some places have water that has more chemicals in it, or has a strange taste. 

[00:13:59] But in the vast majority of cases in North America and in Europe, at least, there is very little evidence to suggest that there is any difference.

[00:14:12] There have been lots of experiments where people are given different types of water - some very expensive water from bottles and some water just from the tap, from the main supplies, the same water that goes into your toilet. 

[00:14:28] And not only can most people not tell the difference, but from a health perspective, there is no difference.

[00:14:38] In many cases, the bottled water that has the lovely logo, the lovely name and that you might think has been lovingly put into a bottle at the top of a glacier is actually just the same water as the water that comes from the tap, but has been slightly treated by a company, put in a bottle and then sold for up to 10,000 times more than they bought it for.

[00:15:07] Not everyone is falling for this trick though. 

[00:15:11] When Coca Cola tried to launch their own brand of bottled water in the UK called Dasani, it was a complete flop, it was a complete disaster. 

[00:15:23] They used the same approach, the same formula as had worked in the United States, which was just add some minerals to tap water and put it in a bottle with a large price tag.

[00:15:38] What they hadn't realised is that there is a famous scene in a British comedy series called Only Fools and Horses where one of the main characters tries to sell water from the tap in a bottle for a huge profit. 

[00:15:57] When it was revealed that the water that Coca-Cola was selling for around a dollar a bottle was just slightly treated tap water, there was a huge uproar in the British press, in the British newspapers, and a lot of comparisons made between Coca-Cola and this character from Only Fools and Horses, this famous British comedy. 

[00:16:23] Just three months after launching Dasani was removed from sale in Great Britain and Coca Cola didn't return to the British bottled water market for 10 years. 

[00:16:37] Even though this might all be an interesting idea to think about theoretically, it obviously has an environmental cost as well. 

[00:16:48] The world will produce over half a trillion plastic bottles next year. 

[00:16:54] Fewer than half of the bottles bought are ever even collected for recycling, and only 7% of the bottles that are collected for recycling are turned into new bottles. 

[00:17:08] Most of them have a life of about an hour or so when they are opened drunk, and then they end up in the rubbish dump or in the ocean, as we talked about on another recent episode. 

[00:17:24] And unlike most other plastic waste, whether that's shampoo, toothpaste or food packaging, for many people there is an alternative to bottled water that is right in front of us and significantly less expensive. 

[00:17:41] Yet hundreds of millions of people choose not to use it.

[00:17:46] What I do think is a really interesting idea though, and it's what we will end with today is how water has been a status symbol for hundreds of years. 

[00:18:01] It's something that everyone on the planet needs to drink, and therefore the kind of water we drink is to a certain extent, a way of showing your identity, of showing how you're different from other people. 

[00:18:16] Hundreds of years ago, it might have been a visit to a spa town to show that you care about your health, but also just showing yourself there, drinking this water - you wanted to be seen at a spa town, as it said something about who you were and the kinds of people that you socialised with.

[00:18:38] Then 40 years ago, it was drinking a chilled glass of Perrier with a slice of lemon to show that you meant business - you weren't going to be drinking whisky at lunch, you drunk Perrier because you were an important business person. 

[00:18:56] And now in 2020, it might be drinking fancy flavoured water to show that you are healthy and you care about your wellbeing. 

[00:19:07] Or it might be just drinking normal, bottled water because you can afford it, and perhaps you just want to show that you can't afford to take risks with water from the tap. 

[00:19:19] The reasons might change, but we still drink certain types of water often because we want to show who we are.

[00:19:28] Of course, for the billions of people all over the world who don't have access to clean drinking water from taps, bottled water is an amazing invention and necessity for daily life. 

[00:19:42] It's not going to give you cholera or be filled with disease, it is cheap and convenient, and that is a fantastic thing. 

[00:19:53] But for those of us who do have access to healthy, clean drinking water from our taps available at a very small cost, I think if you went back to someone 50 years ago, before that famous advert had come out and explained that now we are all buying bottled water, that is really not so different to the stuff that we get out of our taps, well, I think they would probably find that quite surprising. 

[00:20:25] Okay then, that is it for bottled water. 

[00:20:30] It is a really interesting idea, and with my marketing hat on, it does sort of show that we can be persuaded to do almost anything. 

[00:20:41] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:20:45] I know we have members from some countries where the water from the tap is delicious and completely fine.

[00:20:51] I know we have members from countries where the water from the tap is not so good. 

[00:20:57] And I also know that we have members from countries where drinking water from the tap or asking for tap water is not really a culturally acceptable thing to do. 

[00:21:08] So I would love to know what you think, as always you can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:17] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:21:22] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English - the show where you can listen to interesting stories and learn fascinating things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about bottled water.

[00:00:28] It is a fascinating story and takes us from the Romans to the Victorians, to the modern day, and is a prime example of the power of marketing and advertising, of how hundreds of millions of people pay large amounts of money for something that they can often get for free,and how water throughout the ages has been a status symbol.

[00:00:58] I've wanted to do this episode for a while, so I'm thrilled to be sharing it with you today. 

[00:01:05] So let's start, as we often do, with a bit of history. 

[00:01:11] Of course, humans and animals have drunk water forever. 

[00:01:16] Up to 60% of our body is water, and we need it to survive. 

[00:01:22] And historically before the development of large cities and urban settlements, when we would drink water, this water would come from rivers, streams, springs, or wells

[00:01:37] As people started to live in ever larger communities, the danger of water not being safe to drink increased, but there really wasn't any way to make the water itself safer.

[00:01:52] So in Europe at least, those who could afford to used to go to spa towns to take the water, places where there were natural spas and springs and people could go for a period of time for supposed health reasons. 

[00:02:12] The British town Bath, otherwise known as Bath Spa, is named so because of its spa, where the Romans used to go and bathe and drink the refreshing waters. 

[00:02:26] And because in towns and villages, the water wasn't safe to drink, instead people would drink other safer drinks that had been processed in various ways. 

[00:02:40] In Europe, things like beer and wine. 

[00:02:43] In China and parts of East Asia, tea.

[00:02:48] But as the popularity of going to the spa continued to increase for people living in urban areas, there was the demand for some way of bringing spa water back to the cities and towns. 

[00:03:05] And it's here that we first encounter bottled water. 

[00:03:11] One of the first instances of bottled water was in the year 1621 at a place called Holy Well in the west of England.

[00:03:22] They bottled spa water, and distributed it throughout Britain. 

[00:03:29] This water was fizzy water, it was effervescent

[00:03:34] People drank it for its supposed health benefits, but also because they liked the taste. 

[00:03:43] It was a tiny industry though - this was before the industrial revolution and there really wasn't any way of mass producing the stuff.

[00:03:53] It was a luxury that only the richest in society could afford. 

[00:04:00] Over the next few hundred years, as innovation led to a reduction in the cost of producing water, and there was an increasing amount of health concerns about drinking water from public supplies, the bottled water industry continued to grow and grow. 

[00:04:21] Bottles became cheaper and safer, and throughout Europe and North America sales grew every year. 

[00:04:31] However, the success and growth of bottled water hit a bit of a roadblock, its growth slowed. 

[00:04:40] The reason for this was that in the early 20th century, it was discovered that adding chlorine to the water supply would kill a lot of bacteria and that this was a cheap and effective way of making the water safe to drink.

[00:04:59] Suddenly people realised that the water that came from the municipal supplies was good, it was safe to drink. 

[00:05:08] And it was free, or if it wasn't completely free, it was very, very cheap. 

[00:05:15] In North America, the sales of bottled water plummeted, they reduced drastically. 

[00:05:23] Understandably, people could get it for free, so why would they pay for it? 

[00:05:30] In Europe, bottled water remained a bit of a status symbol, something that was sold in cafes and restaurants, especially on the continent, in continental Europe. 

[00:05:44] In the late 20th century, though, everything changed again for bottled water. 

[00:05:51] There was a very famous marketing campaign in 1977, by Perrier, the French fizzy water company. 

[00:06:00] It was by the actor and filmmaker Orson Welles. 

[00:06:06] I'm actually going to play it here, it's only 30 seconds. 

[00:06:11] So here we go, listen to the advert that changed the fate of bottled water forever.

[00:06:18] Orson Welles:[00:06:18] " Deep below the Plains of Southern France, in a mysterious process, begun millions of years ago, nature herself adds life to the icy waters of a single spring, Perrier. 

[00:06:32] Its natural sparkle is more delicate than any made by man and therefore more quenching, more refreshing, and the mixer par excellence. 

[00:06:40] Naturally sparkling, from the center of the earth, Perrier. 

[00:06:48] Alastair Budge:[00:06:48] So there we go. 

[00:06:51] If you didn't get everything there, he is describing how this amazing water comes from deep under Southern France and how it is made by nature herself. 

[00:07:04] This advert positioned this water as the ultimate status symbol

[00:07:11] It was expensive, at today's equivalent of around $3 a bottle.

[00:07:17] But not so expensive that it was completely out of reach to America's aspiring middle class. 

[00:07:26] This coincided with a shift in North America and Europe away from drinking strong alcohol during the day. 

[00:07:35] Previously, it had been socially acceptable to drink whisky and brandy and all sorts of spirits at the office.

[00:07:44] But this was becoming less and less acceptable. 

[00:07:49] If you've watched the series Mad Men, you will, of course know exactly what I'm talking about. 

[00:07:56] Drinking something like Perrier, or if I'm an American, I should say Perrier, showed that you were serious. 

[00:08:03] It showed you cared about your health and it showed that you were an aspirational person.

[00:08:11] But it wasn't really about what was inside the bottle, but it was the bottle itself. 

[00:08:18] The bottle showed what you wanted to be. 

[00:08:22] Sales skyrocketed

[00:08:25] It went from selling 3 million bottles in 1975 to 200 million just four years later. 

[00:08:34] Americans were loving it. 

[00:08:38] But remember, this was still fizzy water. 

[00:08:41] This idea of buying bottled plain water, when you could get the same normal water out of the tap was still quite strange.

[00:08:54] As companies saw the growing popularity of fizzy water and saw how they could persuade consumers to do almost anything through large advertising campaigns, they came for plain water, they came for tap water. 

[00:09:14] In the early 200s there was a series of campaigns that preyed on people's fears, they capitalised on the fears that people had about tap water. 

[00:09:26] They tried to get people to be afraid of drinking water from the tap, and instead to buy bottled water. 

[00:09:35] There were famous advertising campaigns with taglines like "tap and toilet water come from the same source, don't you deserve better?" 

[00:09:48] And sales of normal flat, bottled water, they really started to take off.

[00:09:54] Despite the fact that in most of North America and large parts of Europe water from the tap is just as safe as bottled water, people were understandably concerned when someone made them think about their toilet and drinking water in the same sentence.

[00:10:14] And as there has been increasing levels of concern about the dangers of drinking lots of sugary drinks, of soda, Coke, and so on, bottled water has continued its ascent, it has continued to rise in popularity. 

[00:10:31] Bottled water is now the most popular drink in North America, and this is in a country where you can get the same thing from the tap practically for free. 

[00:10:44] Of course it's not just in North America and Europe. 

[00:10:47] The US is actually the second largest consumer market for bottled water after China. 

[00:10:56] But in China, there is a perfectly good reason to drink bottled water, at least from a consumer point of view.

[00:11:04] And that is that the water that you get from the taps in China just isn't safe. 

[00:11:11] Even in Shanghai, which if you've been there you'll know is a huge futuristic metropolis, 85% of the water in its major rivers was considered undrinkable, and 56% of it was considered unfit for any purpose, so they can't use it for anything. 

[00:11:35] In Beijing, 40% of all water sources are so polluted that they basically just can't be used, and in Tianjin, a huge port city in the North of China, less than 5% of the water can be used as a source of drinking water. 

[00:11:57] So of course, in lots of countries, drinking water from the tap just isn't an option - you have to drink bottled water. 

[00:12:07] But coming back to bottled water in places where there is perfectly good tap water, it is a really interesting phenomenon, that people pay to get something that they can get almost for free, that also has the advantage of having a significantly lower environmental impact. 

[00:12:30] A study from the WWF, the world wildlife fund, found that more than 50% of the US population drinks bottled water and people spend from 240 to over 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water than they typically do for tap water. 

[00:12:53] So it can cost 10,000 times more to buy pretty much exactly the same thing, but Americans still spend around $16 billion on bottled water every single year. 

[00:13:09] This study said that if you drink eight glasses of water per day, a year's supply of normal bottled water would cost approximately $200, and the same amount of tap water would cost about 33 cents. 

[00:13:27] To repeat, that is $200 versus 33 cents. 

[00:13:33] Now most of us are conditioned to think that bottled water is better - it's healthier, safer and tastier than what comes out of a tap. 

[00:13:45] Of course it must be - you pay for it, therefore it must be better, right? 

[00:13:51] In some cases, this is true. 

[00:13:54] Some places have water that has more chemicals in it, or has a strange taste. 

[00:13:59] But in the vast majority of cases in North America and in Europe, at least, there is very little evidence to suggest that there is any difference.

[00:14:12] There have been lots of experiments where people are given different types of water - some very expensive water from bottles and some water just from the tap, from the main supplies, the same water that goes into your toilet. 

[00:14:28] And not only can most people not tell the difference, but from a health perspective, there is no difference.

[00:14:38] In many cases, the bottled water that has the lovely logo, the lovely name and that you might think has been lovingly put into a bottle at the top of a glacier is actually just the same water as the water that comes from the tap, but has been slightly treated by a company, put in a bottle and then sold for up to 10,000 times more than they bought it for.

[00:15:07] Not everyone is falling for this trick though. 

[00:15:11] When Coca Cola tried to launch their own brand of bottled water in the UK called Dasani, it was a complete flop, it was a complete disaster. 

[00:15:23] They used the same approach, the same formula as had worked in the United States, which was just add some minerals to tap water and put it in a bottle with a large price tag.

[00:15:38] What they hadn't realised is that there is a famous scene in a British comedy series called Only Fools and Horses where one of the main characters tries to sell water from the tap in a bottle for a huge profit. 

[00:15:57] When it was revealed that the water that Coca-Cola was selling for around a dollar a bottle was just slightly treated tap water, there was a huge uproar in the British press, in the British newspapers, and a lot of comparisons made between Coca-Cola and this character from Only Fools and Horses, this famous British comedy. 

[00:16:23] Just three months after launching Dasani was removed from sale in Great Britain and Coca Cola didn't return to the British bottled water market for 10 years. 

[00:16:37] Even though this might all be an interesting idea to think about theoretically, it obviously has an environmental cost as well. 

[00:16:48] The world will produce over half a trillion plastic bottles next year. 

[00:16:54] Fewer than half of the bottles bought are ever even collected for recycling, and only 7% of the bottles that are collected for recycling are turned into new bottles. 

[00:17:08] Most of them have a life of about an hour or so when they are opened drunk, and then they end up in the rubbish dump or in the ocean, as we talked about on another recent episode. 

[00:17:24] And unlike most other plastic waste, whether that's shampoo, toothpaste or food packaging, for many people there is an alternative to bottled water that is right in front of us and significantly less expensive. 

[00:17:41] Yet hundreds of millions of people choose not to use it.

[00:17:46] What I do think is a really interesting idea though, and it's what we will end with today is how water has been a status symbol for hundreds of years. 

[00:18:01] It's something that everyone on the planet needs to drink, and therefore the kind of water we drink is to a certain extent, a way of showing your identity, of showing how you're different from other people. 

[00:18:16] Hundreds of years ago, it might have been a visit to a spa town to show that you care about your health, but also just showing yourself there, drinking this water - you wanted to be seen at a spa town, as it said something about who you were and the kinds of people that you socialised with.

[00:18:38] Then 40 years ago, it was drinking a chilled glass of Perrier with a slice of lemon to show that you meant business - you weren't going to be drinking whisky at lunch, you drunk Perrier because you were an important business person. 

[00:18:56] And now in 2020, it might be drinking fancy flavoured water to show that you are healthy and you care about your wellbeing. 

[00:19:07] Or it might be just drinking normal, bottled water because you can afford it, and perhaps you just want to show that you can't afford to take risks with water from the tap. 

[00:19:19] The reasons might change, but we still drink certain types of water often because we want to show who we are.

[00:19:28] Of course, for the billions of people all over the world who don't have access to clean drinking water from taps, bottled water is an amazing invention and necessity for daily life. 

[00:19:42] It's not going to give you cholera or be filled with disease, it is cheap and convenient, and that is a fantastic thing. 

[00:19:53] But for those of us who do have access to healthy, clean drinking water from our taps available at a very small cost, I think if you went back to someone 50 years ago, before that famous advert had come out and explained that now we are all buying bottled water, that is really not so different to the stuff that we get out of our taps, well, I think they would probably find that quite surprising. 

[00:20:25] Okay then, that is it for bottled water. 

[00:20:30] It is a really interesting idea, and with my marketing hat on, it does sort of show that we can be persuaded to do almost anything. 

[00:20:41] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:20:45] I know we have members from some countries where the water from the tap is delicious and completely fine.

[00:20:51] I know we have members from countries where the water from the tap is not so good. 

[00:20:57] And I also know that we have members from countries where drinking water from the tap or asking for tap water is not really a culturally acceptable thing to do. 

[00:21:08] So I would love to know what you think, as always you can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:17] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:21:22] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]