Posted: 08 Jul 2008 From: We All Live Downstream, A Blog by John DeCock, President of Clean Water Action
If you’re looking for a place to trim your budget in order to afford gasoline, you might start by cutting out bottled water. In most cases, the water you buy is the same as what comes out of your tap. When it’s bottled, you pay anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 times the price of tap water.
Modern municipal water systems comprise a mind boggling and tremendously successful public works project costing in the trillions and delivering a basic necessity of life for an amount of money so small that most people think of water as being delivered to their home for free. Although we still need to work hard to protect our water sources and ensure that our water infrastructure is in good shape, most American cities have water that is equal to or better than a given bottle.
In June of 2007, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom took forward-thinking action on this issue to reduce waste and cut down greenhouse gas emissions. He also saved the city about $500,000 per year. Mayor Newsom instituted a ban on the purchase of bottled water for use by the city. On June 23rd, the US Conference of Mayors voted to endorse this idea. In a non-binding resolution the mayors agreed to encourage bans similar to the ones in place in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and about 60 other cities. Mayor Newsom and 17 other big cities mayors led this effort against opposition from industry groups such as the American Beverage Association.
In commenting on the resolution, Newsom said “Cities are sending the wrong message about the quality of public water when we spend taxpayer dollars on water in disposable containers from a private corporation.”
According to the Pacific Institute, we used 17 million barrels of oil to manufacture bottles for water in 2006. That figure doesn’t come close to representing the full cost in oil. Transportation to point of sale and beyond is not included. The bottling process produced 2.5 million tons of CO2. It takes three liters of water to manufacture a one liter bottle of water. Not to mention the environmental impact of the plastic that is not recycled after all that bottled water is consumed.
And there is a cost to our water resources for all of this bottling. Some major corporations have a big financial interest in exploiting our ecosystems to feed the demand for bottled water that they create.
In Michigan the Nestle Corporation’s water pumping operations triggered an ongoing seven-year-long battle over control of the state’s waters when it started a bottling operation in rural Mecosta County. Local residents took the company to court in 2001. The local court ordered Nestle to stop pumping and diverting waters from Sanctuary Springs, but subsequent legal appeals ended with Nestle being granted permission to withdraw up to 250 gallons per minute despite the fact that pumping was impairing a nearby stream, lake and wetlands. The Michigan Supreme Court majority, in a decision that overturned 30 years of settled law, ruled that federal law superseded the Michigan Environmental Protection Act and greatly reduced the ability of citizens to sue to enforce the state’s environmental laws.
Nestlé’s political muscle was further flexed in a deal that exempted most bottled water exports from the proposed Great Lakes Compact agreement which bans water diversions from the Great Lakes, a win reinforced in 2006 when Michigan’s elected officials put the diversion loophole into state law. Clean Water Action helped lead the way in winning new protections against the impacts of bottled water withdrawals in legislation expected to be signed by the Governor this month, but the diversion loophole remains.
Is there ever a circumstance in which bottled water makes sense? Of course there is, but every day routine use in most places do not require that we waste money, generate trash and burn oil to get an overpriced consumer product that is as close as your kitchen sink.
Routinely using bottled water for your drinking water is like buying alkaline batteries to power your refrigerator. It is insanely inefficient. You can take action to change this irrational consumer habit by switching to tap water in safe, refillable bottle. You can also contact your mayor’s office and public utilities commission and tell them you want them to adopt the ban on buying bottled water with taxpayer funds.
So this summer, stay healthy and hydrated, but BYOB to the beach, the gym or in the lunches you pack for day camp. Cut down on waste, damage to watershed, CO2 emissions and save money in the process. Isn’t it great to know you can do so much good for the environment, save money and stay healthy all at the same time? All that, and you don’t need to carry those heavy cases of water around anymore!