Saturday, March 7, 2009

Towards a Ban of Bottled Water Sales?

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is considering a ban on bottled water sales on municipal property.

In most of Canada, tap water is perfectly safe for drinking. Bottled water (concerns about the danger from the chemicals in the bottle itself aside) is little more than a marketing success. For example, look at the Aquafina bottled water website. If you read their FAQ section carefully they distinguish spring water, which they don't use, from purified water, essentially tap water which has been filtered a few more times than the municipalities had. In fact, I seem to recall reading on bottles of Aquifina that the water was sourced from the municipal supplies (read tap water) of various different municipalities. Bottling and selling tap water is perfectly legal in Canada. In short, the public has been convinced that they need bottled water and that it's better for them, when really, that's a dubious assertion.

On the other hand, bottled water is somewhat of an environmental disaster. This article (from an anti-bottled water group) notes that from Toronto alone, millions of empty bottles from bottled water end up in landfills. Some of them are recycled, no doubt, but the ones that are not don't even biodegrade. They just sit there. Forever. This is on top of the environmental costs of running a factory to bottle it, loading it in trucks to ship it all over the place and keeping refrigerators full of it in stores and vending machines. An article with somewhat more detail, including industry's response that bottled water provides a healthy alternative to pop, is here. While it's true that bottles from soft drinks also end up in landfills, the two can be distinguished because pop can only be purchased, bottled water is a replacement for a free alternative--carrying around a re-usable bottle filled with tap water.

Banning bottled water sales on municipal property may not make a huge dent in the amount of waste produced. It will send a message to attentive consumers though: there is more to bottled water than meets the eye. A ban is also not a quick fix. Consumers need to be educated as well. Municipalities would do well to promote more recycling, promote the use of re-usable water containers and educate consumers about the real costs of bottled water. If there are areas or cases where bottled water is needed, then yes, by all means, use it, but in places where the tap water is safe and clean, then bottled water is an environmentally irresponsible choice.

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