Toledo Talk

Bottled water bad for the environment

Feb 18, 2007 story : The real cost of bottled water

Just supplying Americans with plastic water bottles for one year consumes more than 47 million gallons of oil, enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, according to the Container Recycling Institute. In contrast, San Francisco tap water is distributed through an existing zero-carbon infrastructure: plumbing and gravity. Our water generates clean energy on its way to our tap -- powering our streetcars, fire stations, the airport and schools.

More than 1 billion plastic water bottles end up in the California's trash each year, taking up valuable landfill space, leaking toxic additives, such as phthalates, into the groundwater and taking 1,000 years to biodegrade. That means bottled water may be harming our future water supply.

San Franciscans and other Bay Area residents enjoy some of the nation's highest quality drinking water, with pristine Sierra snowmelt from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir as our primary source. Every year, our water is tested more than 100,000 times to ensure that it meets or exceeds every standard for safe drinking water. And yet we still buy bottled water. Why?

Maybe it's because we think bottled water is cleaner and somehow better, but that's not true. The federal standards for tap water are higher than those for bottled water.

The Environmental Law Foundation has sued eight bottlers for using words such as "pure" to market water that contains bacteria, arsenic and chlorine. Bottled water is no bargain either: It costs 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water. For the price of one bottle of Evian, a San Franciscan can receive 1,000 gallons of tap water. Forty percent of bottled water should be labeled bottled tap water because that is exactly what it is. But even that doesn't dampen the demand.

Clearly, the popularity of bottled water is the result of huge marketing efforts. The global consumption of bottled water reached 41 billion gallons in 2004, up 57 percent in just five years. Even in areas where tap water is clean and safe to drink, such as in San Francisco, demand for bottled water is increasing -- producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy. So what is the real cost of bottled water?

Most of the price of a bottle of water goes for its bottling, packaging, shipping, marketing, retailing and profit. Transporting bottled water by boat, truck and train involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. More than 5 trillion gallons of bottled water is shipped internationally each year. Here in San Francisco, we can buy water from Fiji (5,455 miles away) or Norway (5,194 miles away) and many other faraway places to satisfy our demand for the chic and exotic. These are truly the Hummers of our bottled-water generation. As further proof that the bottle is worth more than the water in it, starting in 2007, the state of California will give 5 cents for recycling a small water bottle and 10 cents for a large one.

So it is clear that bottled water directly adds to environmental degradation, global warming and a large amount of unnecessary waste and litter. All this for a product that is often inferior to San Francisco's tap water. Luckily, there are better, less expensive alternatives:

-- In the office, use a water dispenser that taps into tap water. The only difference your company will notice is that you're saving a lot of money.

-- At home and in your car, switch to a stainless steel water bottle and use it for the rest of your life knowing that you are drinking some of the nation's best water and making the planet a better place.

Signing on to or to register not to buy bottled water for a year enters your name in a drawing to win a free stainless steel water bottle.

Feb 12, 2007 story : Bottled water a marketing triumph

While Environment Minister John Baird and the members of a special parliamentary committee on the environment snarl at each other over the wisdom of carbon taxes and Kyoto targets, Costco is busily trying to introduce a product we definitely don't need - 15-litre, non-returnable water bottles. Or maybe we should call them water tanks.

Surely the bottled-water industry has already buried us under enough non-returnable plastic. Half-litre- and litre-sized bottles are everywhere, littering our parks, our streets and our hiking trails. Executives sip them in business meetings, parents pack them in their kids' school lunches, college students slurp them in class and shoppers tote them around the stores. The last thing we need are giant versions of the same thing.

Sure, they're recyclable, but they're not reusable like the 18-litre drums you can pick up at supermarkets by paying a $10-deposit. Those things can be refilled up to 70 times before they have to be recycled. And anyway, how do you stuff a 15-litre barrel into a green box?

There is, of course, a far more environmentally friendly way to get drinking water, a method that doesn't require big trucks or plastic bottles or deposit-return networks, a system that has the approval of even such severe evaluators as David Suzuki. It's called turning on the tap.

Bottled water is, in fact, one of the great marketing coups of the 20th and 21st centuries. That business people have managed to persuade us to pay for drinking water - often more than we pay for gasoline - staggers belief, especially when you consider that we already pay plenty every year in municipal taxes to have potable water piped right into our homes and offices. It's difficult to know whether to applaud the brilliance of corporate salesmen, or lament the gullibility of consumers.

Feb 1, 2007 story : Buying bottled water is wrong, says Suzuki

Canadians wanting to do something about the environment can start by drinking tap water, environmentalist David Suzuki says. "Everywhere I go across Canada, I insist I be given tap water when I get up to speak," Suzuki told CBC News on Thursday.

Moreover, he said it's destructive to import bottled water from producers in countries such as France. "It's nuts to be shipping water all the way across the planet, and us — because we're so bloody wealthy — we're willing to pay for that water because it comes from France," he said in an interview.

Key environmental issues with bottled water, Suzuki said, are waste and uncertainty over the long-term health effects created by plastic. "Not only does bottled water lead to unbelievable pollution — with old bottles lying all over the place — but plastic has chemicals in it," he said.
created by jr on Feb 20, 2007 at 02:22:21 pm
updated by jr on Jul 16, 2007 at 02:38:31 pm
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