Will Raising the Cost of Water Reduce Wasteful Habits?

The Sydney Morning Herald online recently published an article discussing the push to substantially raise the price of water among major economies worldwide, as this natural resource becomes more and more scarce.  Experts claim that in order to change the wasteful habits of most consumers, countries need to boost the price of water, thereby making it more valuable and raising awareness so that we will take better care of our supplies.  According to the article, it will also help to raise the money needed to repair old systems and build new ones so that more people have access to clean drinking water around the globe.

What stuck out to me about this was the idea that raising the cost of water will make people less wasteful, as it will make water that much more valuable.  The bottled water industry has already capitalized on this notion, and it appears to have had the opposite effect.  If we consider that most bottled water is actually tap water, and the price of bottled water is a thousand times more than the cost of tap water, then bottled water manufacturers have managed to make millions of dollars off of something that environmental leaders say is becoming a scarce commodity.  And if even half of those millions were used to invest in new water supply systems, more people would have access to clean water, worldwide.

As we can see, bottled water companies have managed to place a higher value on water, but this has resulted in an increase in wastefulness, rather than a decrease.  Only a small percentage of plastic bottles are actually recycled, while the rest continue to pile up in our landfills, ruining our environment, and causing more harm to existing safe water supplies.

People in third world countries continue to go without safe water.

Wasteful consumers continue to fill the pockets of bottled water manufacturers.

And the cycle goes on…

Now, you might say that bottled water has helped many people in third world countries overcome the aftermath of natural disasters.  And it has.  But so have water filters as this story about a twelve-year-old boy working to provide safe water for victims in Haiti illustrates.  My argument, here, is that putting a higher value on water (as bottled water companies have done) will not necessarily change the habits of wasteful consumers.  And even if it did – there’s no proof that the money raised would actually go toward building safe water supply systems.  Maybe I’m missing something.  Or maybe I’m just being a bit pessimistic…

Anyone care to disagree?

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