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Would you pay S$140 for ‘pristine’ bottled water?

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Don’t worry, we’re not talking about the rise in water bills in Singapore. It may be a hot topic of contention, but while we’re on the subject of water, here’s one that can make environmentalists boil.

Someone thought it would be a good idea to harvest water from polar icebergs off the coast of Svalbard, Norway, and market it as ‘limited edition’ water for sale at S$140. The person behind this venture is a Wall Street businessman who visited the archipelago in 2013. Surprisingly, the governor of Svalbard approved of this venture.

And so Svalbarði, the luxury water, was created. It’ll take 2 icebreaker expeditions a year (in summer and autumn when icebergs calve from glaciers), each harvesting 15 tonnes of ice which are then lifted onto the boat with a crane and net before being taken to Longyearbyen to be melted down into bottles of ‘polar iceberg water’. It claims to have the ‘taste of snow in air’.

All 15 tonnes of ice only produces 13,000 bottles.

Obviously, the environmental sustainability is a concern for many. Apparently, the company claims it is carbon neutral certified by supporting renewable energy projects in East Africa and China. Plus, they only take icebergs that are already floating in the water and can’t be used for polar bears to hunt.

Some who can afford the price tag may not consider depleting 30 tonnes of iceberg a year an issue, but this is just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended).

If Svalbarði succeeds, there’s bound to be competitors. But even before we look to the future, we have to remember that it wasn’t the first venture of its kind.

In Tibet, dozens of companies have already tapped Himalayan glaciers for ‘premium’ bottled water. Sure, the idea of drinking ‘pure glacial’ water may seem luxurious, but the process to obtain said water disrupts the source of water from the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, which can have devastating effects on the 10 major rivers that flow into South Asia. Millions of people depend on that glacial water for their livelihood rather than for privilege.

With advanced water filtration technology these days, it’s surprising that some people still pay top dollar for ‘premium’ water that depletes natural resources. It’s estimated that 3l of water are needed to produce just 1l of bottled water – worse still is that these plastic bottles often end up in landfills rather than getting recycled. In addition, tons of fossil fuel is needed to make and transport these bottles.

So while some may think nothing of spending S$140 on a bottle of ‘pure’ water sucked from pristine protected landscapes, the biggest inequality probably lies in the fact that 663 million people currently live without access to even safe water.

You may be aware that water has been thought of as a commodity, and Nestle has been lambasted for insinuating that water should not be free to anyone – even if they harvested rainwater themselves. While it may make sense from the standpoint of water wastage, something so essential to all life – human or animal – should never be marketed as a luxury.

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