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Cardiff School of
Planning and Geography

Liquid Capital: Political Economy, Desire and Sustainability in the UK Bottled Water Market.

Dr Adrian Evans, Essex University
Tuesday 29th January 2013 - 4:00pm
Council Chamber, Glamorgan Building

Public Seminar series hosted by the Environment Research Group.

Despite having access to drinkable tap water, UK consumers drank over 3 billion litres of bottled water in 2008 (Euromonitor 2009). Furthermore, certain consumers are willing to pay almost £4 for a litre of high-end products such as ‘Voss water’ and some are happy to drink water imported from as far away as Fiji. These and similar statistics have not escaped the attention of environmental groups, some of which have rushed to stigmatise the consumption of bottled water and urge for a ‘return to tap’. Yet things are not as straightforward as they seem, for example the environmental credentials of many bottled waters compare very favourably to soft drinks such as coke, moreover we might question the logic of providing a uniform standard of drinkable water direct to people’s homes for them to shower in, flush down the toilet and water the garden.

In this paper I take up some of these issues and I argue that in order to understand the nature and formation of the current market for bottled water in the UK it is necessary to draw on a range of different theoretical and methodological resources. In particular, I draw on theories of political economy (especially Instituted Economic Processes, see Harvey et al. 2002) to understand the economic organisation of the market for bottled water in conjunction with theories of embodied practice (Thrift 1996) to understand some of the more cultural and aesthetic dimensions of bottled water consumption. Finally, I attempt to problematise the concept of sustainability, by exploring how discourses surrounding the sustainability of bottled water are grounded in various socio-material practices.