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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Back on the bottle?

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!


Anonymous said...

Nestle's has a notorious history for advocating the use of dry powdered infant formula in third world countries where clean healthy drinking water is short supply, if it exists at all. This causes infant mortality. And it doesn't just happen in third world countries either. It happened to me with my first child right here in Canada. I was pressured in the maternity ward to bottle feed my baby and despite the fact that I said I wanted to breastfeed he was bottlefed by nurses, and then brought to me when he wasn't hungery. I was told my nipples were too big, and that breast feeding would ruin my appearance, and even offered ohip funded reconstructive breast surgery to repair the so called damage from pregnancy! OUTRAGIOUS.

Anonymous said...

I don't want any "safe levels" of chlorine or fluoride in my drinking water. If the government was so concerned with safe drinking water they wouldn't use the cheapest method. They dump tons of sewage into our rivers every year so that's how concerned they are with clean water. They keep chemical companies happy by purchasing tons and tons of chlorine and whatever else they put in the drinking water.

At the same time I don't agree with corporations consuming tons of energy to produce and sell products just to keep their stock prices high. They don't care about the environment that much.

Test your water to find out what's in it and filter it yourself with whatever system you think is best.

Anonymous said...

It is honestly stupid that in the city owned facilities like Storybook, parents are forced to buy thirsty children vitamin water or pop IN BOTTLES because they cannot buy bottled water. This teaches our children nothing. It is nanny society gone to an extreme. Politicians should mind their own business and allow citizens to buy whatever they see fit, be it water in a bottle or not.

Anonymous said...

I think they have water fountains at Storybook Gardens. Doesn't cost anything, either.

fred said...

This issue will tell a lot about how the next 4 years will go, and honestly I'm not very optomistic.
Our mayor has stated that we're 'Open for Business' no matter the cost - half a billion for land along the highway to give to a dead manufacturing sector when we can't give away what we've already got, a disregard for environmental concerns (I forget the exact quote, but something like "We shouldn't abandon all the environmental regulations...), scuttling of much needed infrastructure work meant to safeguard our current water supply to keep some arbitrary campaign promise, and so on.
Add to that citizens like anonymous above who gripe, no doubt, about a $37/yr charge on their water bill to allow such infrastructure work while at the same time crying about not being able to spend $2 on a little bottle of the same water. Hey anonymous, if you're taking your kids to the park for the day, how about coming prepared instead of relying on mother corporation to take care of every whim they train you to have? Talk about a nanny society...

Anonymous said...

Let's hope enough of the new council members have the sense to reject the Nestle's bid.

Why's woman said...

Dear Mayor Fontana and Councillors Usher, VanMeerbergen, Armstrong, Orser and Brown,

I am writing to you in your capacity as a member of the Community and Neighbourhoods standing committee.

I note that your agenda for Tuesday, February 15/11 (item 16) indicates that the committee will hear a presentation from John Challinor II, Director of Corporate Affairs for Nestle Waters.

In brief, I believe that it is a waste of committee time to revisit the sale - or lack of sale - of bottled water in municipal facilities.

London Council voted to not sell bottled water in its facilities in August of 2008. This was a phased in process. The City of London received a huge amount of positive press coverage for this stance.

London's forward-thinking policy influenced its peers at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) which adopted a resolution to 'urge all municipalities to phase out the sale and purchase of bottled water at their own facilities where appropriate' and to urge municipalities 'to develop awareness campaigns about the positive benefits and quality of municipal water supplies." (1) The proud tone of the FCM's press release (2) is reflected in this statement by the Mayor of Sherbrooke, Quebec - then FCM president - Jean Perrault: “Today’s action is another illustration of how municipalities are leading by example to encourage environmentally sustainable water choices.”

Revisiting its decision would bring much negative publicity to the City of London.

I bring to your attention that in May 2010 Mr. Challinor was interviewed Bob Brouse, on a show called the Water Chronicles (3). The interviewer had asked Challinor to discuss the importance of FCM's resolution to 'say no to bottled water'.

In his reply, which I've transcribed from the interview, Mr. Challinor said:

That was a resolution that was passed over a year ago .. in Vancouver. It wasn’t unanimousely supported by FCM, by their their board. There was no discussion with out industry prior to its adoption. It was brought forward by a couple [of] activists, Toronto councillors. It basically fell flat. Very few municipalities across the country ended up banning the sale of bottled water as a result … and people just went about their business quite frankly because there’s more important issues to deal with at municipal government level these days than bottled wate.r

Mr. Challinor's tone, is, to me, dismissive of the process and due diligence of the FCM. His reference to 'a couple of activists' is a backhanded insult to municipal representatives concerned about environment, health and resource use.

I do agree with him, however, that municipal governments these days are busy with important issues.

London Council does not need to revisit the sale of bottled water in its facilities.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this.


(1) Federation of Canadian Municipalities resolution

(2) The Water Chronicles , May 2010

(3) from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities -

Gina Barber said...

You can contact Nestle's at this link to let them know what you think of their approach to the city

Anonymous said...

I've had children enrolled in the London Public School system for several decades and have learned from that experience that the vending machine businesses is part of the competitive free market society and once a business, be it a school or city hall, signs a contract with one company it cannot permit a competive company to set up shop.
I for one boycott Nestle's because of their infant formula high-pressure sales tactics that necessitated the intervention of the World Health Organization.
I might purchase another brand of bottled water occassionally.
As for city halls decision not to sell bottled water, that too is fair free market enterprise.
They are advocating the use of their own product and they have the right to do so. This isn't a ban on bottled water, as Leila Paul states in her online comment in the article 'water,water, everywhere' published on Valentines day www.lfpress.com