Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ban bottled water? Thanks for the suggestion.

UPDATE: Today's Barrie Examiner has another letter from Nestlé's John Challinor who accuses me of publishing false statements in a poorly-researched column. Yet he doesn't actually demonstrate any errors, all he does is put forward some irrelevant comparisons. An excellent response was submitted by Don MacNeil. 

Last week in lamenting Barrie’s litter epidemic, I urged readers to “refuse bottled water”, a choice I’ve already made. This seems to have ruffled the feathers of the water-bottling folks at Nestlé Waters, who wrote in this week refuting what they took as a call to ban bottled water. Why are they so concerned that they’d take my helpful suggestion as a call for a ban? Perhaps because such calls are being made, across Canada and right here in Barrie, on very strong grounds.
Now, to be clear, I don’t think anyone’s actually demanding we outlaw bottled water. There are education programs to help people understand that tap water is just as safe and convenient, easier on the environment, and vastly cheaper than disposable bottled water. And there are campaigns asking municipalitiesschool boards, and other organizations to “ban” bottled water within their own facilities. This just means they stop selling it on their premises and commit to providing convenient alternatives, such as fountains or filling stations for refillable bottles.
Is bottled water so bad? Nestlé’s letter says not all water bottles get trashed; they make up only 1-4% of our landfill. Yet if you separate garbage into 50 categories of trash, any type will be about that proportion, so it’s a meaningless assertion. They also take pride in paying 50% of the blue box program cost, which means taxpayers, including folks like me who don’t create this waste, must cough up the other half!
What are the relevant numbers? The energy to make each bottle, run the plant, ship the bottle, chill it, and recycle it would fill each water bottle ¼ with crude oil. Although if bottles were truly recycled, the old plastic would go into the new bottles, which it doesn’t *.
Tap water has fewer bacteria than 70% of bottled water; Canada’s had 29 recalls of 49 bottled water products between 2000 and 2009. And 40% of bottled water is just tap water in a throwaway container.
Why pay 1000 times more for the same thing? The most successful marketing campaign of all time? Collective lunacy? Both? The Lorax film depicts the madness of marketing bottled air, an allegory for bottled water, but apparently we’re the crazy ones.
To learn more about bottled water’s impacts and alternatives, meet Ontario’s eco-adventurers the Water Brothers at Ecofest Barrie on June 9th, in honour of this year’s water theme. As they note in their episode “Bottlegate”, we don’t live in a desert; must we carry water every time we step out, lest we dehydrate before our next stop? Why not re-fill a bottle with the best drinking water in the world, free from the tap?
My last column didn’t promote a water ban, but this one does. The Council of Canadians has formally requested Barrie follow other municipalities, including Tiny Township, in adopting the Blue Communities resolution, which includes not selling bottled water in civic spaces. Contact your Councillor and urge the City to do its part to make tap water more convenient than bottled, to lead by example in protecting our water, environment, energy, and wallets while reducing waste and costs.

* In their FAQ, Nestle seems to indicate that they don't use recycled plastic in their bottles, but are still researching it. Yet elsewhere, they have some press releases about using recycled plastic specifically in the Montclair brand of bottled water. So my original comment must be incorrect, as I was misled by the information on their official website.
Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "City must lead residents back to the taps"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is 60% tap water.


  1. The hyperlink about the recycles use of plastic bottles only links to

    Otherwise good post.

  2. Thank you for pointing that out, I've fixed it now.