City to consider bottled water ban

Ninety-nine plastic bottles of water at the dump, ninety plastic bottles of water, fill a container with tap water instead, and you’ve got Toronto’s new recycling plan!

Of course, the process is not as easy as singing this little ditty, but city officials from municipalities across Ontario hope that consumers will start to be more conscious when they purchase, and in turn recycle, bottled water.

Too many empty plastic bottles end up as litter on the street,
or in the garbage. They should end up at the recycling depot.

In November, city staff will have completed a report concerning the reduction of recyclable products, like one-use water bottles, as many of these recyclable products end up at the dump, instead of at the recycling depot where they belong.

“We are very aware of the impact that our industry has on the environment,” says Elizabeth Griswold, Executive Director of the Canadian Bottled Water Association (CBWA). “We consider ourselves to be leaders in the environment. In the last five years, we’ve used 40 per cent less plastic in bottle manufacturing.”

The CBWA firmly opposes any bans or restrictions by municipalities on the sale of bottled water.

In addition to one-use water bottles, the report also recommends implementing the best methods to recycle and reduce what the city refers to as “in-store” and “factory” packaging. However, the issues concerning one-use water bottles have been receiving the most attention.

According to a report presented by Geoff Rathbone, General Manager of Solid Waste Management Services for the City of Toronto, there are three areas of focus when it comes to the waste diversion of this type of packaging. In-store packaging includes hot drink cups, plastics carry-out bags, and plastic take-out containers. Factory packaging refers to the extra packaging some manufacturers put inside, or around the outside of their products. The report will also look at the best way to dispose of “special waste” such as batteries, light bulbs and paint cans.

The report, and ultimately its objectives, will aid in City of Toronto Mayor David Miller’s Target 70 initiative – 70 per cent waste diversion from landfills by 2010. Target 70 also includes the recent implementation of blue and green bin recycling services.

Recently, a few Ontario municipalities have been taking a look at waste diversion possibilities and have found what they consider a small-scale solution in a municipal facility bottled water policy.

In August, London’s city council voted in favour of restricting the sale of bottled water in city owned facilities, making London the first large Canadian city to impose these restrictions.

“In phase one of this initiative, we’ve phased out bottled water in three municipal facilities that already have water fountains which patrons can use to fill their reusable water bottles,” said Wes Abbott, Manager of Solid Waste Services for the City of London.

Too many empty plastic bottles end up as litter on the street,
or in the garbage. They should end up at the recycling depot.

“A lot of people are calling this decision a ban, but that isn’t the right word to use,” said Abbott. “It’s not a ban because we still allow residents to bring bottled water into facilities. We’ve just stopped the sale of it in our buildings.”

London has recently implemented a pilot project at a large urban park where a portable water dispensing unit – known as a “water bar” – was introduced to residents to help quench their thirst to compensate for restricting the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities.

The Waterloo Region also restricted the sale of bottled water from municipal facilities in September in an effort to promote tap water as a finer alternative to bottled water in terms of cost, quality, and environmental impact.

In late September, Owen Sound followed suit and banned the supply of bottled water from municipal facilities for the same reasons.

Mayor Miller has also said Toronto may also be looking at this municipal facility restriction option.

How would consumers feel about a bottled water ban in Toronto’s municipal facilities?

Mackenzie Anderson, 11, plays for a female REP minor hockey team and frequently plays at many in arenas – municipally owned facilities – in Toronto. At the beginning of her season, each member of her team was given a water bottle which the trainers fill up, with tap water, before each game.

“We use tap water on the bench but after the game, my parents usually buy me a bottle of water,” said Anderson. “I think it tastes better.”

Robert Lee, 29, a Scarborough resident, is also a hockey enthusiast, and participates in a ball hockey league which plays in various arenas around Toronto.

“Sometimes I’ll buy a bottle of water from the vending machine if I forget to bring my own from home,” said Lee. “It’s convenient, I guess, to have bottled water available to athletes who play in these arenas, but it can get a bit pricy game after game.”

Arenas often charge $1.50 for a single bottle of water.

“You can get pretty much the same quality water from the tap anyway,” Lee added.

Although the sale of bottled water may be costly to consumers, the restriction of bottled water in municipal facilities may hurt the pockets of another major stakeholder – the companies who manufacture bottled water.

The CBWA represents over 100 water bottling manufacturers like Culligan, Perrier, Montclair and Nestle for example. This organization was founded in 1992 to represent the Canadian bottled water industry, and to ensure a high standard of quality for bottled water.

The day after the City of London decided to go ahead with the ban, the CBWA issued a news release in defence of the bottled water industry.

“Our message to municipalities has always been consistent,” said Griswold. “The amount of energy, money, and resources spent on trying to impose these restrictions and bans, should be directed toward the real issue which is diverting plastics from landfills.”

In addition to landfill diversion, the municipalities who had implemented the ban, or who were considering it, also claimed that bottled water was too expensive, and that it was only of equal quality, or even lesser quality, to that of municipal tap water.

Contracted by the CBWA, Probe Research Incorporated conducted a market research study in May which found that 70 per cent of Canadians who drink bottled water choose to do so as an alternative to other beverages they can buy – not as an alternative to tap water.

The CBWA is puzzled as to why municipalities would consider removing the choice of a sugar free, caffeine-free, calorie free, fat free and completely healthy and safe beverage.

“We can’t understand why these municipalities choose to take the healthiest bottled beverage out of facilities, but they keep the sugary, caffeinated beverages on the shelves. It sends the public the wrong message.”

Most bottled beverages – pops and juices in addition to water – use the same polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles.

In an effort to curb this bottled water ban trend throughout Ontario municipalities, one major bottled water manufacturer offered an alternative recycling solution.

Nestle, which produces Nestle Pure Life bottled water, proposed a pilot recycling project in London that would collect plastic containers in public spaces such as parks, city streets and restaurants.

“We were right there with Nestle, supporting the pilot project,” said Griswold. “But the city decided to take the easy way out and impose the restrictions in municipal facilities instead.”

Zero plastic water bottles at the dump, zero plastic water bottles…

A foreseeable reality, or just another environmentalist pipe dream?