NEWS / Food Facts

Department for Health pouring away money on bottled water

A new report has revealed the Department for Health wasted almost £200,000 pounds on bottled water. This could have paid for 14 baby incubators, 34 hip replacements or 244 cataract operations.

Download the 'The taps are turning' from the Sustain publications catalogueA new report has revealed the Department for Health wasted almost 200,000 pounds on bottled water. [1]  This could have paid for 14 baby incubators, 34 hip replacements or 244 cataract operations.[2]

The report 'The taps are turning', published today by Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, confirms the environmental damage caused by the bottled water industry, as well as highlighting the waste of money.  The report looks at how government and business have responded to the challenges in Sustain's report 'Have you bottled it? published last year.  It finds that most Government departments and businesses are changing to tap water, but usually alongside continuing to buy bottled water. 

Jeanette Longfield, Sustain's coordinator said: It is crazy that the Department for Health is pouring away money buying unnecessary bottled water, which is not only a rip-off but also damages our environment.

At the time of Sustain's survey of almost 40 government departments and agencies, only the Department of Health had no policy to shift to tap water.  Jeanette Longfield continues: Organisations like the Department of Health are dinosaurs.  We have found that world cities - such as San Francisco, Paris, New York and London - are turning onto tap water.   San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, banned bottled water from all city departments in summer 2007. Mayor Ken Livingstone confirmed that he has instructed my staff to ensure that bottled water is not provided at any internal meeting in City Hall for which I have responsibility.[3] The Mayor, and Jenny Jones, a Green Party Member of the London Assembly, are working with Thames Water to emulate the successful Paris campaign, and put tap water on every restaurant and caf table in London, by providing stylish water carafes.[4]     

Sustain has also found some brands contain controversial sweeteners like aspartame,[5] colourings like tartrazine,[6] and preservatives like potassium benzoate.[7]  For example:

  • Robinsons Fruit Sh2oot, natural orange flavour spring water contains both aspartame and acesulfame K.
  • Volvic Revive, Citrus Kick Flavour with Ginseng and Guarana contains, among many other ingredients, tartrazine.
  • Volvic Touch of Fruit, Lemon and Lime Flavour contains potassium benzoate.

The report also notes that some flavoured waters are surprisingly sugary. This Water (pomegranate, lychees and blackcurrant flavour) contained 29g of sugar per 420ml bottle. Volvic Touch of fruit strawberry flavour had 72g of sugar per 1500ml bottle, or 12g per 250ml serving.  The Juice Doctor tropical Hydration fix contained 28g of sugar per 500ml bottle.

Sustain's Richard Watts noted:  Many of these flavoured waters are targeted at children.  Parents will be concerned to know that the colouring in a Citrus Kick flavour Volvic Revive would need a health warning if it was used in a medicine.


For more information please contact:

Jeanette Longfield, Co-ordinator of Sustain.
0203 5596 777 (w) 020-8566-1761 (h)

Richard Watts, Campaign Director at Sustain
0203 5596 777 (w) 07710-782-719

Notes to editors:

The report The taps are turning: Are we ending our love affair with bottled water? is available on Sustain's website  from Monday 18th February.

Given the environmental damage caused by bottled water, Sustain is calling for the Government, businesses and individuals to speed up the change to tap water. 

  • Defra should insist that all government departments and agencies, as part of sustainable procurement policies, routinely use and promote the public water supply.   
  • Customers in restaurants, cafs and other similar outlets should routinely be offered tap water free of charge.
  • People can make bottled water the new plastic bag issue, and drink tap water from re-usable containers, when they're out and about.

  1. A reply to a Parliamentary question by Norman Baker MP, on 17 April 2007, revealed that in 2005 and 2006 the Department for Health purchased, respectively, 45,738 litres of bottled water costing 89,189.10p, and 52,861 litres of bottle water costing 103,078.95p (192,268.05p) for the London Administrative estate alone. This was part of a series of Parliamentary Questions asked on behalf of Water UK in 2007
  2. The operation costs were calculated from:
    The baby incubator costs were calculated from:
  3. Question number 0308/2007, Meeting date 21 February 2007 Question by Jenny Jones, Green Party, in the London Assembly.  Answer by Mayor Ken Livingstone.
  4. Contact Ruth Timson ( and 020-7983-4358 at the office of Green Party Assembly Member, Jenny Jones, for more details.   
  5. Aspartame: Although deemed safe for human consumption by the American Food and Drug Administration and the UK's Food Standards Agency, aspartame continues to be a controversial additive.  During metabolism, it breaks into methanol, which is found in windscreen washer and petrol.  Methanol can also be converted in the body into formaldehyde, which is a highly toxic chemical that has been known to cause cancer (Cytotoxic effects of methanol, formaldehyde, and formate on dissociated rat thymocytes: A possibility of aspartame toxicity, Y. Oyama et al, Cell Biology and Toxicology, Volume 18, Number 1, February, 2002). Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation.
  6. Tartrazine:  This colouring has been linked to hyperactive behaviour in children and is banned from all foods and drinks for the under threes. Research has also shown that consuming food and drink containing tartrazine can lead to allergic reactions including rhinitis (runny nose), dermatitis (an allergic skin condition), asthma, nettle rash (urticaria).  Under EC guidelines, medicines should carry a warning that tartrazine may cause allergic reactions. However, foods and drinks are not obliged to carry a warning, although they are consumed in much larger quantities.  Tartrazine has also been linked to hyperactivity in children.
  7. Potassium benzoate (E212):  The Food Commission, drawing on published scientific evidence, notes that this preservative can be 'mildy irritant to the skin, eyes and mucous membranes'. See the Food Commission website


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