Politicians, consumers out of sync on bottled water
By Cam Wood
August 21, 2008
– As a municipal push to ban the sale of plastic water bottles begins
to spread to cities across Canada, consumers across the country seem
unready to break their addiction to the bottle.
August 21, 2008 – As a municipal push to ban the sale of plastic water bottles begins to spread to cities across Canada, consumers across the country seem unready to break their addiction to the bottle.
Many consumers remain suspicious of tap water and continue to believe that bottled water is safer, despite the environmental impact of plastic bottles and the fact that municipal water undergoes more stringent testing, said Richard Girard, a researcher with the environmental advocacy group Polaris Institute.
"Corporations have created a distrust in municipal tap water systems by marketing their products as the only healthy way to drink water," Girard said in an interview from Ottawa.
"We see bottled water as a redundant product. It's not needed. We have good tap water in Canada. If people have concerns about chlorine in the water or other issues, there are filters that are designed to take that out."
Kate Jordan, spokeswoman for Ontario's Environment Ministry, said more than 99 per cent of all municipal drinking water meets provincial standards, despite the perception.
Girard estimates that 20 per cent of Canadians currently rely solely on bottled water. And a Statistics Canada report released this summer suggested the demand continued to make a steady climb.
Three in 10 households drank bottled water in 2006, according to the report, which also found people in high-income homes drank more bottled water than people with lower incomes. It noted that just 25 per cent of university educated households drank their water from bottles.
Almost 1.5 billion litres of bottles water were produced for Canadians in 2003, the latest figure available, compared to 820 million in 2000.
"Bottled water just represents the most ridiculous product that has been mass-marketed in the last 15 years, when we can get tap water out of our taps at home," said Girard.
Canada's addiction to bottled water is largely based on convenience, said Justin Sherwood, president of Refreshments Canada, a national trade association that represents manufacturers of non-alcoholic beverages.
"There's any number of instances when tap water just isn't available," said Sherwood.
"Really, bottled water provides a convenient, safe and healthy hydration option when you're on the go."
Sherwood argues that not only is bottled water more convenient, but using a reusable bottle can have as much environmental impact as a disposable plastic bottle.
"It takes significantly more energy to produce than a single-use container. You've got to wash it out, which requires hot water. It requires soap to clean. If you take a look at it, in some cases, it's almost a wash in terms of the environmental benefit of using a reusable over a single-use," Sherwood said.
But to Girard, Sherwood's reasoning is "just a lot of hot air."
"It's completely ridiculous to say that a reusable water bottle is as environmentally damaging as a plastic, petroleum-based bottle that has been filled with water somewhere across the continent and shipped to your store, where you drive to buy it. It doesn't make any sense," he said.
The environmental consequences of disposable bottles are driving municipalities across Canada to ban the bottle, despite its continued popularity.
The southwestern Ontario city of London voted this week to ban the sale of bottled water in all municipal buildings, including arenas, community centres and possibly golf courses.
Nelson, B.C., outlawed the sale of bottled water in city buildings in May and St. John's, N.L., has banned bottled water at city hall.
Charlottetown has outlawed plastic water bottles at council meetings, while school boards in Toronto, Ottawa and the Waterloo region in Ontario are looking into banning disposable water bottles in schools.
In Vancouver, Coun.Tim Stevenson is proposing a ban on plastic water bottles in city buildings.
Toronto Mayor David Miller said Wednesday the city is also considering a ban on the sale of bottled water.
In November, Toronto council will examine how the city can curb bottled water waste as part of a larger effort to reduce the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills.
"I think Torontonians should use Toronto tap water," Miller said. "It's more pure than leading brands of water."
One reason for a lingering perception that bottled water is safer is the Walkerton public health disaster that killed seven in the Ontario town of 5,000 and sickened 2,500 in May 2000 when the victims drank water tainted with E. coli.
Eight years later, the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported 1,760 boil-water advisories were in effect in communities across the country – excluding those on 93 First Nations territories.
The worst-hit area this year has been Ontario, with almost 700 advisories in effect as the province headed into summer.
British Columbia, with 530, was not far behind, and almost every other province, with the exception of Prince Edward Island, had advisories warning people that danger lurks in their taps.
SOURCE: The Canadian Press