AUGUST 26 2012 BY LAURA SPERANZA
TAKE a closer look at your bottle of "pure" water: it's probably sourced from the tap. Millions of unsuspecting customers are buying filtered tap water and boiled rainwater at massive mark-ups of more than 180,000 per cent.
Several manufacturers admit they fill their bottles from the Sydney Water mains after applying filtration and purification procedures - but they insist customers know their water is not sourced from a mineral spring, and are happy to pay for the convenience of having it in a plastic bottle.
The major brands that describe themselves as "spring" or "mineral" water are genuine natural spring water, including Mount Franklin, Fiji Water, Pump and the Coles and Woolworths homebrands.
But supermarket and convenience stores stock brands that describe themselves as "purified" or "organic" and are in fact the same water available in every home for less than one cent a litre.
Filtered tap water - brands such as Aqua Pura, Mizone, Noble's Pureau, Nature's Best Organic, Active Organic and Refresh - are sold in Coles, Woolworths, Franklins and IGA as well as petrol stations and convenience stores.
Sydney Water boasts one of the world's most advanced filtration systems. It sells water at $2.13 for 1000 litres but companies are selling it for about $2.50 for 600ml.
Even accounting for a 15c bottling cost, that is a mark-up of more than 180,000 per cent.
Refresh Pure Water managing director Henry Heng said it bottled rainwater, which was boiled for sterilisation.
"Rainwater is free," Mr Heng said. "The source of the water is not important."
Nature's Best Organic owner Warren Peffer said his bottled water, sold in Franklins for up to $2.50 a bottle, wasn't claiming to be spring water.
"It's tap water," he said, defending the "organic" label.
"People have a perception that it means the water is a better standard or comes from a better source," he said. "If I don't have it, I lose business."
"None of us are really paying that much for water," Mr Peffer said. "It's just the packaging materials we're selling."
Active Organic water admitted its product was also filtered tap water.
A spokesman for Noble's Pureau said it was "value-adding water" it obtained from Sydney Water, after filtering it to render it "ultra pure".
Spokeswoman for Sydney Water Emma Booth said: "Sydney's tap water is safe to drink without filtering."
She said Sydney Water did not have any supply agreements in place with water bottling manufacturers, so they were free to use as much water as they liked.
The NSW Food Authority said it did not test bottled water unless there was a complaint. Food Standards Australia New Zealand said a standards code did not exist for filtered tap water or rainwater as it did for spring or mineral water.
Coles said all filtered tap water products it stocked were clearly and accurately labelled, and complied with Australian labelling guidelines.
Ingrid Just from consumer watchdog Choice warned consumers to check the labels.
"It's very easy to be swayed by pretty pictures of flowing waterfalls and bubbling brooks," Ms Just said.
Bottled water drinker Tatiana de Wouytch, of Bondi Beach, said she was shocked by the revelation.
"I wouldn't have thought of looking at the back of the bottle, but now I'll look more closely before I buy," she said.
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