Despite the safety of Singapore's tap water, demand for bottled water continues to soar. Data from research firm Euromonitor International in 2015 showed that consumers in the country spent more than $134 million on bottled water, a 24 percent increase from their spending in 2010.
A recent report from the United Nations University's Institute of Water, Environment and Health, released earlier this year, also found that Singapore will rank first in the world in terms of annual revenue and volume of water sold per capita in 2021, and sixth in terms of total drinking water sales, with more than $7.5 billion in revenue.
The report notes that Singaporeans spend significantly more on bottled water than other countries, with each person spending US$1,348 (S$1,800) and consuming 1,129 liters of bottled water in 2021.
In fact, the condition of Singapore's tap water is the safest for consumption in Southeast Asia. According to representatives from Singapore's national water agency, PUB, tap water in Singapore is guaranteed to be safe to drink and of healthy quality straight from the tap.
According to The Strait Times, a PUB spokesperson explained that the quality of tap water meets the standards set out in the Environmental Public Health (Potable Water) Regulations 2019 issued by the Singapore Food Agency, as well as the World Health Organization's (WHO) drinking water quality guidelines.
PUB conducts over 500,000 tests for more than 300 water quality parameters every year, far exceeding the 100 parameters recommended by the WHO and other international guidelines.
Why do so many people still buy bottled water?
Tap water is much cheaper than buying bottled water. The price of a 600 ml bottle of water ranges from 50 cents to $1, while tap water costs only 0.1 cents for the same volume.
PUB, the agency in charge, manages a network of about 5,700 kilometers of drinking water pipes, which is comparable to the distance from Singapore to Osaka, Japan. The agency's goal is to cover the entire region of Singapore with drinking water pipes.
In a country where tap water quality exceeds the minimum standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it may come as a surprise to some that the bottled water business is booming and worth millions of dollars.
The reasons that may ultimately explain the high consumption of bottled water in Singapore, according to experts, are related to convenience, availability and affordability.
Dr. Corinne Ong and Dr. Maki Nakajima, researchers at the Institute of Environment and Sustainability (IES) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, found that the high consumption of bottled water could be due to the extent to which the product is available and affordable to the public.
The 2019 IES study also found that most households in Singapore choose to drink tap water, whether boiled or not, while only 3 percent of the 1,000 households surveyed actually consume bottled water.
This suggests that concerns about the quality of tap water may not be the main factor explaining the popularity of bottled water consumption in Singapore.
Plastic pollution - bottled water in Singapore
However, the report by the UN think tank also highlighted that the use of plastic in the bottled water industry is a major contributor to the problem of plastic pollution.
In addition, a study by Milieu Insight, a leading consumer research company in Southeast Asia, found that Singapore is among the countries that do not recycle single-use plastic bottles due to a lack of recycling bins.
Despite the popularity of bottled water, Singaporeans are unlikely to switch completely to bottled water as their main source of water. Therefore, it is important for the government to continue to promote the use of tap water and the culture of recycling to reduce the problem of plastic pollution.