Bottled water backlash: environmental concerns are sending people back to their taps.
Jennifer Phillips always felt guilty that her large Nashville law firm didn't recycle. So after big client meetings, she collected all the empty plastic water bottles, took them home and added them to her own curbside recycling bin. Now, she is proud to report that her firm, Bass, Berry & Sims, serves an icy pitcher of tap water during meetings. "We even have glasses with the company logo on them," she says. Phillips estimates switching to tap keeps 3,000 plastic water bottles per week out of the landfill.
It's a trend that is taking hold in the U.S., Europe and Canada: more people are switching from bottled water to tap. Call it reverse snob appeal snob appeal
Qualities that seem to substantiate social or intellectual pretensions. . Bottled water once carried a certain European mystique. But these days, it's the tap water enthusiasts, concerned about the environment, who get to act self-righteous. Just like it has become cool to bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store and your own mug to the coffee shop, the reusable water bottle is the hip, new eco accessory.
It's because people like Phillips and David Wilk, a Connecticut book publisher and tap water activist, have started to connect the dots. For Wilk, it happened on the soccer field. After his sons finished their games, he noticed the grass was littered with bottled water and Gatorade empties. Pretty soon, Wilk started showing up with a huge container of tap water. Now all the kids bring their own bottles and fill up when thirsty.
"We have such a consumption mentality, which leads to our throw-away society The throw-away society is a human society strongly influenced by consumerism. The term describes a critical view of over-consumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable items. ," says Wilk, who started the website Turntotap.com to build more support for public water supplies and to cut down on the amount of plastic going into landfills. "I think the cost of our behavior should be built into the products," Wilk says.
A Gathering Revolt
In Canada, the bottled water issue has become, as Wilk says, an "uprising." College students are staging protests--declaring "bottled water-free zones" on campus. High school activists are raising questions about why their school board members are locking them into a contract with Coke or Pepsi (makers of Aquafina and Dasani bottled water) when they have access to drinking fountains for free. Some students have jokingly started to sell bottled air for $1.
In an even bolder move, the United Church of Canada United Church of Canada, Protestant denomination formed in 1925 by the union of the Methodist, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches in Canada. A large number of Presbyterian congregations, however, remain outside the union. asked its three million members to consider banning bottled water during meetings and events. "We just had a lot of concerns about governance and accountability," says Julie Graham, who leads the anti-bottled water campaign for a Toronto ecumenical activist group called Kairos Kairos (καιρός) is an ancient Greek word meaning the "right or opportune moment". The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. . "Why is it people in Canada are willing to pay twice as much for bottled water as for gasoline? We started challenging that and raising questions about billions of empty bottles going into landfills."
Others, like Richard Girard, a corporate researcher for the Ottowa-based Polaris Institute The Polaris Institute is a Canadian think tank based in Ottawa. Its stated goal is "to help empower citizen movements towards democratic social change". It was formed in 1997 in response to its view that citizens were becoming politically disenfranchised in an age of corporate , don't like the hypocrisy they perceive in the bottled water marketing. "This movement is gaining momentum because the general public is starting to figure out bottled water is a scam," says Girard. More than half of all bottled water is simply filtered tap anyway, he argues. And some of it is actually worse in quality because bottled water companies aren't subject to the same strict oversight as public water supplies.
"We want the bottled water corporations to be held accountable for their actions," Girard says. "These companies are essentially commodifying water. We hope we can force them to change and be more environmentally responsible."
The trend away from bottled water also ties in with the Slow Food movement--as the restaurant industry tries to support local agriculture and cut down on extravagant energy used to ship imported foods from around the world. At Berkeley's Chez Panisse Chez Panisse is a Berkeley, California restaurant known as the birthplace of California cuisine, a style credited to its co-founder, Alice Waters.
The restaurant is located in the north Berkeley neighborhood known locally as the "Gourmet Ghetto". , general manager Mike Kossa-Rienzi had his "a-ha" moment when he sat down and calculated how far the 25,000 bottles of sparkling Italian spring water he ordered had to travel through the air. "It really does not make sense to ship from all around the world when you have such good water in your backyard," he says. "You have to think about the carbon imprint you're making there."
Another big push for the bottled water backlash came during World Water Day 2007, when San Francisco San Francisco (săn frănsĭs`kō), city (1990 pop. 723,959), coextensive with San Francisco co., W Calif., on the tip of a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, which are connected by the strait known as the Golden Mayor Gavin Newsom declared a ban on bottled water contracts for all city departments. Instead of bottled water vending machines, he installed large dispensers in city buildings that poured out pure tap water from the Sierra mountains. Other cities, from Chicago to Salt Lake, followed suit.
Just think about a bottled water brand like Fiji, says Wilk. On the company's website, it says, "When it comes to drinking water drinking water
supply of water available to animals for drinking supplied via nipples, in troughs, dams, ponds and larger natural water sources; an insufficient supply leads to dehydration; it can be the source of infection, e.g. leptospirosis, salmonellosis, or of poisoning, e.g. , remote is very, very good." If you think about it, Wilk says, it's pretty arrogant to ask that Fiji water be flown 8,000 miles across the world just so North American North American
named after North America.
North American blastomycosis
see North American blastomycosis.
North American cattle tick
see boophilusannulatus. yuppies can enjoy a slightly better taste.
Responding to rising criticism, the company launched the "Fiji Green" campaign. It partnered with Conservation International to go carbon negative, reduced packaging, committed to 100 percent recycled materials and has pledged money to protect the Sovi Basin rainforest in Fiji. A cynic cyn·ic
1. A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness.
2. A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.
3. would say the company is doing this because it can afford to--marketing Fiji water is an enormously profitable enterprise.
It takes 15 million barrels of oil per year to make all of the plastic water bottles in America, according to the Container Recycling Institute. Sending those bottles by air and truck uses even more fossil fuel.
Once people drain the bottles, they rarely recycle them because they're often purchased at big concert venues or airports with no recycling bins. CRI CRI
constant-rate infusion. says eight out of 10 water bottles end up in the landfill. The bottles that drift from landfills and litter streams are washing out to sea to form a huge raft of plastic debris in the center of the Pacfic that is twice the size of Texas.
It takes 1,000 years for plastic bottles to break down, CRI estimates. But when they do, they disintegrate into tiny bits. The green and blue bottles, especially, look like tasty food to fish and shorebirds. Scientists are finding these dead animals on the beach, with bellies full of plastic pellets.
If more states added deposits on bottled water bottles, it might spur recycling. Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) has even proposed a national beverage bottle bill. But PET water bottles (short for polyethylene terephthalate Ter`eph´tha`late
n. 1. (Chem.) A salt of terephthalic acid. ) can only be recycled a few times. What about going back to refillable glass bottles? For one thing, they are heavy to ship. And Zero Waste expert Neil Seldman of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance The Institute for Local Self-Reliance or ILSR, is a nonprofit organization that advocates for local solutions for a sustainable future.
Founded in 1974, ILSR’s mission is to provide the conceptual framework, strategies and information to aid the creation of doesn't imagine anyone could persuade the beverage industry to go that route. "They have always lobbied against it," Seldman says. "The industry does not want to deal with it after people buy their product--they want to wash their hands of the containers." That's why it makes the most sense to avoid creating the waste in the first place by drinking tap from your own container, Seldman says.
Meanwhile, as drought spreads to North Carolina North Carolina, state in the SE United States. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (E), South Carolina and Georgia (S), Tennessee (W), and Virginia (N). Facts and Figures
Area, 52,586 sq mi (136,198 sq km). Pop. and Atlanta, residents are casting a suspicious eye on beverage companies like Coca Cola, which tap into local aquifers to fill their bottles. Nestle has been seeking environmental approval for what would be the largest water bottling plant in the U.S.--one million square feet in McCloud, California--against community protests. Part of the company's payout to the town, according to Robin Singler, Office Administrator of the McCloud Watershed Council, would include an annual exclusivity fee--"to disallow To exclude; reject; deny the force or validity of.
The term disallow is applied to such things as an insurance company's refusal to pay a claim. any other use of [the] water in any other business enterprises for 100 years." Even with Nestle's proposed Community Enhancement Fund payments, residents are concerned about the mega-plant's effects on quality of life and outdoor recreation.
Bottled water industry groups, such as the International Bottled Water Association This article or section needs sources or references that appear in reliable, third-party publications. Alone, primary sources and sources affiliated with the subject of this article are not sufficient for an accurate encyclopedia article. , say they are being unfairly targeted. They argue bottled water is a healthy alternative to sugary soda. And it can also be a lifesaver when disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, strike. "It's not really a bottled water vs. tap water world," says IBWA IBWA International Bottled Water Association
IBWA Industry Based Workload Alignment spokesman Steven Kay. "Most people drink both. We think bottled water provides a good healthy choice."
But industry marketing firms have had to do an about-face. "What's interesting about the backlash," says CRI Executive Director Betty McLaughlin, "is that the companies say 'drink our water, not tap water.' Now people are going back to tap and they've got to reposition themselves." Companies are trying every angle, from claims of superior filtration to adding antioxidants Antioxidants
Substances that reduce the damage of the highly reactive free radicals that are the byproducts of the cells.
Mentioned in: Aging, Nutritional Supplements
n. (Snapple) and fruity flavors (Dasani and others).
Don't Refill that Bottle!
The IBWA argues that bottled water companies are responding to environmental concerns by making lighter bottles that require less plastic in the manufacturing process. Kay says the industry does invest significant money to improve access to recycling at large public venues, such as airports and concert halls. Companies like Nalgene, Sigg and Brita are aggressively marketing their refillable bottles and home filters as a more responsible option.
When it comes to reusable bottles, however, consumers still need to do their homework. Research shows that clear bottles made of polycarbonate A category of plastic materials used to make a myriad of products, including CDs and CD-ROMs. plastic (such as the original 32-ounce Nalgene) can leach bisphenol-A (BPA BPA British Paediatric Association. ). This is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that acts like estrogen in the body. BPA essentially tricks your body into thinking it's estrogen, says Washington State University Washington State University, at Pullman; land-grant and state supported; chartered 1890, opened 1892 as an agriculture college. From 1905 to 1959 it was the State College of Washington. Researcher Patricia Hunt. She discovered the dangers of BPA when some of her polycarbonate mouse cages started to leach BPA, causing infertility in female mice.
Since BPA has been linked to low sperm counts and an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer prostate cancer, cancer originating in the prostate gland. Prostate cancer is the leading malignancy in men in the United States and is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in men. , scientists like vomSaal and Hunt suggest avoiding reusable bottles made from plastic. They also raise serious concerns about the potential for other plastic chemicals to leach out of typical PET water bottles--especially if they sit in the hot sun.
Hunt uses a stainless bottle brand called Klean Kantene, and Wilk's website sells stainless guaranteed-not-to-leach SIGG bottles made in Switzerland. The trend away from bottled water may also boost sales of home filters. Water-quality experts say most tap water is fine to drink straight from the faucet--especially in cities like San Francisco, Seattle, New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City
City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S. and Denver, where water comes from pristine mountain reservoirs. But in places that draw drinking water from lakes and rivers with sewer outfalls, it might make sense to install a filter. Sometimes rusty pipes or naturally occurring iron can also affect the taste.
It makes sense for anyone turning back to tap to become educated about the local public water supply. And since the Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), independent agency of the U.S. government, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1970 to reduce and control air and water pollution, noise pollution, and radiation and to ensure the safe handling and (EPA EPA eicosapentaenoic acid.
n.pr See acid, eicosapentaenoic.
n. ) requires frequent water quality reports, the data is easy to find. The Environmental Working Group (EWG EWG Environmental Working Group
EWG Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft (German: European Economic Community)
EWG Expert Working Group
EWG Executive Working Group
EWG Electron-Withdrawing Group
EWG UN/EDIFACT Working Group ) makes it easy with its Tap Water Database. You can plug in your zip code and find out whether your local water system is up to par.
Now that more people are trying get out of the bottled water habit, groups like Natural Resources Defense Council The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a New York City-based, non-profit non-partisan international environmental advocacy group, with offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Beijing. Founded in 1970, NRDC today has 1. (NRDC NRDC Natural Resources Defense Council
NRDC National Research and Development Centre (Institute of Education, London)
NRDC National Realty & Development Corp. ) and EWG wonder if this new awareness will translate into more support for public water supplies, and for water conservation in general.
Once you kick the bottle, they say, the next step is to get educated and get involved--find out what your water system needs and start pushing your elected officials to bring more funds to bear on the problem. According to NRDC, the EPA has asked for billions of dollars for a public water supply needs assessment. But the Bush Administration has allocated only a small portion of that request, says NRDC attorney Mae Wu.
"People are very concerned about what's in their water because we drink so much of it," says Jane Houlihan, EWG's vice president for research. "We're advocating for more protection for the waters that are the source of what comes out of kitchen faucets."
MELISSA KNOPPER is a Colorado-based science writer and tap water enthusiast.