December 08, 2011

Bottled Water in Australia — A Semester Abroad

December 8, 2011 - Melanie Frank (‘12) spent last spring in Australia studying the effects of bottled water consumption.

December 8, 2011

During the spring semester of 2011 I spent a semester abroad in Australia. My time there was mostly spent between the cities of Sydney and Brisbane but I also spent a fair amount of traveling throughout the outback, the Great Barrier Reef, and the rainforest. While studying abroad in Australia I conducted research that aims to understand how citizens of Australia consume fresh water and what impacts their consumer choice when deciding between plastic bottled water products versus reusable tap water. I created and distributed an online survey of 10 multiple choice and short answer questions. The survey focused around plastic bottled water consumption versus reusable water bottles. I inquired questions that touch on topics such as consumer choice, (ex. What is the most frequent source of water that you drink? When you buy plastic bottled water what brand do you typically choose?) consumer awareness, (ex. How aware are you of any water bottle related campaigns or protests taking place in your country?  What, if any, water bottle related campaigns or protests taking place in your country are you aware of?)  and consumer demographics (ex. Are you male or female? How old are you?  Where do you currently live?  What is your occupation?).

Throughout my entire stay in Australia I was able to collect 194 surveys from people of various ages, occupations, and locations, though the majority came from Sydney, NSW, and Brisbane, QLD. My ultimate goal of the survey research is to collect the same type of data in America during the following semester in the fall of 2011. This will allow me to do a comparative analysis of bottled water versus tap water consumption in both countries.

In addition to collecting survey data, during my week of independent travel in Australia I took the time to get in contact with a man named Huw Kingston in Bundanoon; a small town located two miles south of Sydney, NSW.   Kingston is single-handily responsible for inspiring and implementing a town-wide ban of plastic bottled water sales. Bundanoon has become the first town in the world to successfully go plastic bottled water free with their Bundy on Tap campaign. Since its decision to prevent plastic bottled water products from being demanded or sold in town, Bundanoon has gained worldwide attention and has inspired countless communities around the world to follow suite. 

My interview with Mr. Kingston was very rewarding. I visited him down in Bundanoon one afternoon and he enlightened me on what it took to get town members on board with the campaign and how to get a ban like this to be successful and permanent. Kingston emphasized the need for alternative options such as water bubblers (what we American’s call a drinking fountain) and how with increased awareness and support campaigns like Bundy on Tap can be realistically and successfully replicated.

On top of collecting my formal data collection of surveys and the interview, I also took notes of any additional Australian anti-plastic bottled water bans that I became aware of throughout the country. This included the Manley Council’s effort to increase reusable water bottle use by installing water-refill stations along the beach side and central shopping area as well as the successful university campaign in Canberra, ACT that banned plastic bottled water from being sold on their campus. I also noted the plastic bottled water brands sold throughout Australia and kept an eye out for forms of advertisements for plastic bottled water products and recorded the prices of these products at grocery or convenient stores as well as what their labels mentions and portray.

Overall I gained a lot of information, insight, and data regarding the consumption patterns of plastic bottled water and learned a lot about how consumers of industrialized countries such as Australia chose to get their fresh water the way they do and why. From my surveys, observations, and interviews I got a clear picture of how the Australian public views plastic bottled water products, what facts and campaigns they are and are not aware of, as well as what is takes to implement and maintain a successful anti-plastic bottled water campaign.