Municipalities federation advocates water bottle ban

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Buying bottled water at municipal facilities throughout Canada may become difficult following a resolution by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The non-binding resolution, passed last Saturday, called for municipalities to move towards removing bottled water from their facilities.

“Municipal concerns are twofold. First, they understand the environmental concerns related to bottled water, and second, they are keen to promote their water services and their commitment to them,” Joe Cressy, campaign co-ordinator for the Polaris Institute, said.

“In the same way that Pepsi does not sell Coke in their offices, municipalities feel they shouldn’t have to sell water in their facilities,” he added.

A representative from the bottled water industry did not understand the FCM’s decision, however.

“We are very disappointed [by the decision] as they did not first consult the Canadian bottled water industry and we feel that they did not undertake a cursory review of the facts about bottled water,” John Challinor, director of corporate affairs at Nestle Waters, said.

He pointed to a series of studies which concluded consumers will choose to leave their own plastic water bottles at facilities not equipped with proper recycling bins and will buy other bottled beverages instead of drinking water.

Stuart Trew, Ontario-Quebec regional organizer for the Council of Canadians, disagreed. He said the bottled water industry is motivated by profits and not by the environment.

“The response [to the ban] has been very negative from the industry because they see this as a threat,” Trew said. “Bottled water is an environmentally disastrous product in terms of the energy required to make the bottles and transport them.”

Challinor discussed the effects of the City of London’s ban last summer.

“[The ban] has not worked because London is still dealing with the same amount of plastic in its facilities that it had prior to the ban, due to the public’s continuing preference for bottled water,” he said.

However, Challinor’s claim was disputed by Cressy, who believes the only solution to reducing waste is to reduce the amount of bottled water sold.

“There is no environmental solution to bottled water other than its elimination because of the high levels of energy required to produce and ship bottles,” Cressy said.

Furthermore, the quantity of bottles that end up in landfills is a concern, according to Cressy.

One of the municipalities considering a ban before the FCM’s decision was the city of Kitchener.

“We have removed bottled water from City Hall and public meetings and we are examining the feasibility of removing them from other facilities such as arenas and community centres,” Kitchener city councillor Kelly Galloway said.

She added Kitchener’s approach to the situation was motivated by both environmental consciousness and economic feasibility and bans would only be instituted where access to municipal water is easily assessable.

A major problem for any municipal ban may be a lack of water fountains in existing buildings.

“We will not spend millions of dollars to retrofit existing buildings with water fountains, but we will incorporate them into any future municipal building plans,” Galloway said.

To date, 11 municipalities and 2 universities and colleges across Canada have banned the sale of bottled water in select facilities.

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