Residents of Bundanoon, in the New South Wales Southern Highlands, voted to ban the sale of bottled water in their town, making it the world’s first bottled water-free town. The bottled water ban was organised by a local businessman, Huw Kingston. In a meeting at the Bundanoon Memorial Hall that attracted nearly 400 people, only two did not support the ban.
Plastic bottles are mostly made from a petroleum product known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and they require huge amounts of fossil fuels to both make and transport them. Studies have also shown that chemicals leached from the plastic can accumulate in the human body.
The waste problem created by the bottles is considerable, as most are not recycled. They end up in landfill or in oceans, where they leach dangerous chemicals and take around a thousand years to decompose. At the time of the ban, bottled water was one of the fastest-growing sectors of the beverage market in Australia.
The main concern of the advocates for Bundanoon’s voluntary plastic bottle ban was the carbon footprint associated with bottling and transporting the water. The council agreed to install additional water fountains in the village, to make drinking water available to the public.
Bottled water bans have been instituted in other areas around the world, notably on university campuses. However, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggested that banning bottled water sales did not produce the expected environmental benefits, at least in a university setting. The study indicated that plastic waste actually increased, as students switched their drinking habits to unhealthy, plastic-bottled soft drinks. It’s not clear whether the study was funded by the industry.
The idea of a bottled water ban didn’t catch on elsewhere in Australia. In 2021, a UN report revealed that Australians were spending about $580 per capita per year on bottled water – around 504 litres each. This was the second-highest consumption in the world, exceeded only by Singapore. This was despite bottled water being more expensive here than anywhere else.