In August 2008, London became the first municipality in Canada to ban the sale of bottled water in its municipal facilities. In February of 2009, we asked other municipalities to join us. We received overwhelming support at the Federation of Canadian Muncipalities. When will Nestle's learn that "No means no"?
It was disconcerting, to say the least, to learn that the issue of bottled water is being raised again at City Hall. It was only two and a half years ago when London became a leader in Canada by saying no to sales of bottled water in its municipal facilities. Our example, and the subsequent motion that we presented to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, was widely endorsed and dozens of municipalities and other organizations have followed suit.
In spite of this wide support, Nestle’s seems to be under the impression that the new players on City Council may be willing to reconsider the ban. In a letter going before the Community and Neighbourhoods Committee on Tuesday, the Director of Corporate Affairs for Nestle Waters, John Challinor II asks the Mayor to “give consideration to working with me to restore the sale of bottled water in your facilities.”
Challinor II goes on to say that he doesn’t mind if Council and staff continue to use pitchers and glasses of water at our meetings; he just wants to ensure that Nestle’s product will be for sale at our facilities. These undoubtedly would include our recreation centres, the libraries, and other community facilities.
He concludes on a chummy note: “Joe, I look forward to the opportunity to meet you and your staff to review this matter.”
I got interested in the issue of bottled water shortly after I first got on council.
In the spring of 2007, a plastic bag got stuck in the tree outside my window. That led me to become aware of the ubiquity of plastic bags and their effect on the environment. But in the course of undertaking the campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags, the proliferation of plastic water bottles also became evident and council asked staff to include our concerns about these items in their review of environmental programs. This was followed up by our Director of Environmental Programs, Jay Stanford, and he is certainly entitled to much of the credit for his work on this.
From my perspective, there are four major issues with the sale of water in single use plastic bottles.
First there is the use of non-renewable fossil fuels in the production of the bottles and the transportation of the filled bottles to their destination.
Second, although the bottles can be recycled, most of them (about 80%) end up in the landfill to remain there for the next thousand years or so taking up valuable space and contributing to soil contamination. Those that are recycled command a very low price and require the use of further energy to convert into another product. The recycling is another drain of taxpayers’ dollars.
Third, symbolically the packaging and sale of bottled water at a high price suggests that the water in the bottle is in some way superior to tap water when in fact the standards for our city water are among the highest in the world. By offering bottled water for sale at municipal facilities, we undermine the perception of the very product that we are legally charged with providing to the community. By offering fresh, cold city water to the public free of additional charge at our facilities we are demonstrating confidence in our product.
In fact, many of the bottles of water are simply filled with tap water (Dasani); others, like Nestle’s, from the same aquifers that supply some municipalities such as Guelph. The difference for the latter is that the same rigorous standards don’t have to be met as with public drinking water and it takes three times as much water to make a bottle than to fill one.
Finally, I am concerned about treating a resource as essential as water as a commodity to be bought and sold at the highest (or lowest) price. The sale of water is a highly charged political issue and it starts right in our own municipality.
I am proud that London led the way in banning the sale of bottled water at its municipal facilities. Since we passed the by-law other communities have followed suit; our resolution to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities was solidly supported by that organization’s board of directors. The ban we undertook has received attention around the world. Even Maude Barlow sent us a personal note of thanks.
Nestle’s argues that Londoners should have the right to healthy choices. I agree. The water provided in our municipal facilities is safe and free of charge. Anyone who wishes an alternative is welcome to bring his own from home in a reusable bottle or from a store in a single use bottle. If you choose the latter, I hope you will recycle it. But please, don’t think that because you have bottled water that it is safer or healthier than tap water. And just because you recycle the bottle, don’t think you have been kind to the environment.
And you certainly won’t be kind to your wallet!