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Water you waiting for? Run out and tap some

  |   Environment   |   No comment
(originally published in the Toronto Sun)

As teenager, I wouldn’t have dreamed of spending my limited cash on something so mundane as bottled water.

I could get water free, from fountains, taps, and restaurants. It never made sense to pay for it. Plus, forgoing bottled water left more money in my pocket for really important things, like another shade of lip gloss — which did more for my fashion statement than carrying a bottle of Evian.

Today, I have different reasons for avoiding bottled water, but the cost savings will always be a bonus. I was thinking of these reasons during Earth Week last week, as I listened to the ongoing debate in our community, and our country, over bottled water.

The push is on to encourage people to stop buying bottled water, and to ban its sale from municipal buildings and events, schools and universities.

Both the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario are urging cities to phase out the sale and purchase of bottled water at their own facilities. To date, 28 municipalities from six provinces have voted to restrict bottled water, and several more — Toronto, Oakville and, this past week, Burlington — are considering proposals to do so.

Another 21 universities and colleges have established bottled-water-free zones, and several school boards — including Halton District just this month — are considering a bottled water ban. The conversation and debate is bubbling.

So why is bottled water a problem?

COST: It costs about a cent a litre for municipal tap water, compared to $2 for a little more than half a litre of bottled water — making it about 250 times more expensive.

POLLUTION: Bottled water consumes significant amounts of non-renewable fossil fuels to extract, package and transport, adding air pollution in the process.

WASTE: It takes about three litres of water to manufacture one litre of bottled water.

GARBAGE: Although bottled water containers can be recycled, 40 to 80% end up in the landfill. Toronto alone sends up to 65 million bottles to landfills annually.

HEALTH RISK: Municipal tap water has more stringent quality control regulations than bottled water, plus there’s no risk of Bisphenol A, a chemical that can potentially migrate from plastic bottles into water when stored.

UNNECESSARY: An estimated 10- to 25% of bottled water is drawn from municipal sources — you’re paying for tap water.

There are counter arguments to these, of course.

All drinks cost money — whether you’re buying milk or orange juice or pop — so why deny consumers water, which is probably a better alternative given that it has no sugar or sweeteners?

All drinks have the potential to create waste because of their glass, plastic and aluminum containers, so why pick on water bottles?

All drinks require energy to produce, and create pollution to transport, so again, why pick on water?

And refillable containers for water must be cleaned — using up water and sending soap waste into the sewers.

SAFETY PRECAUTION

Furthermore, having bottled water on hand can be a safety precaution — for long road trips, in case of power outages, and in remote areas where potable water isn’t available.

And some homes and businesses, especially in older areas, have issues with lead in the water.

But most of us don’t buy bottled water for those reasons, and if we did, the quantity sold would be vastly reduced. According to Statistics Canada, almost a third of Canadian households choose bottled water over tap water. We buy it for convenience, not necessity, and that’s why kicking the bottled water habit will be difficult and slow, requiring a monumental shift in habits and values.

The main habit we’ll have to adopt is planning ahead. By taking a bit of extra time to pack a drink in a stainless steel insulated container, you head off the need to purchase cold drinks at work, school or play.

The value we’ll have to give up is convenience — being able to buy what we didn’t take time to pack. We need to value preparedness over convenience. And this will be tough, since we live hurried lifestyles.

But putting preparedness first has applications well beyond reducing bottled water consumption, and may help slow and order our lives. You’ll be richer, figuratively and literally, by taking that step.

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