Abolish Bottled Water

It's about time.

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Sep 12 2016, 7:49pm

Image: Flickr/Keoni Cabral

Bottled water is a con. It makes about as much sense as designer bottled air, but after a few decades on the market, one's instinct often says to reach for a bottle of Dasani when your mouth's dry and brain's half-pickled on a hot day. It's not water, it's Water, baby!

Bottled water in Canada comes from aquifers near the Great Lakes, where it's pumped for $3.71 per million litres by companies that later sell it for a massive profit. This is in a country where dozens of First Nations communities are living under decades-long boil water advisories, and all of their drinkable water is trucked in by the bottle. Naturally, it comes from Nestle and other corporate producers.

Policymakers and activists have raised calls to hike the price that companies pay to pump water from municipal sources, but some experts say that doesn't go far enough. Instead, according to critics, the practice of pumping water for a profit should be banned wholesale for social and scientific reasons and Nestle's license to do so shouldn't be renewed by the provincial government.

Read More: Why Bottled Water Is Insane

"Water being a common good wouldn't mean that Nestle or Coca-Cola can't pump water to produce soda—you should be able to license water to be used in a product, but not water as a product," said Stephen Scharper, a professor in the University of Toronto's sustainability management program.

"Eventually, this would mean phasing out bottled water completely," he continued.

Groundwater testing company Harden Environmental Services concluded in a 2016 report that "the water taking by [Nestle] results in the depressurization" of the aquifer that the water is being pumped from, which could turn wells or septic tanks in the area into routes for contaminants in other areas and aquifers to fill the void.

Moreover, we could actually run out of water one day. NASA released data last year that showed "about one third of Earth's largest groundwater basins are being rapidly depleted by human consumption." With climate change intensifying droughts around the world, we might need some of that agua in the near future.

Bottled water also isn't any better than tap water anywhere with effective government-run water treatment facilities; historically, it's been much worse. In 1999, the nonprofit Natural Resources Defence Council produced a report that found 25 percent of bottled water is no different in quality than tap water. In a 2006 test by the city of Cleveland, Fiji water was found to contain arsenic. In 2008, the Environmental Working Group found that some bottled water brands are no different than tap water, and in some cases exceeded legal levels of contaminants.

"You don't need the corporate middleman"

Municipal governments are required by law to make annual water quality reports available to the public, but water bottlers are regulated by consumer watchdogs and not environmental agencies. While many manufacturers do release quality reports, some critics have said this means that corporations are held to a different standard than municipalities and the industry is self-policing.

One critique of phasing out bottled water completely might be that portable and disposable water sources are needed in case of an emergency. For example, in First Nations communities that rely on bottled water until the underlying issue with their water supply is remedied. There's no reason the government couldn't fill this role, Scharper said.

"Just because there's a breakdown in municipal services, that doesn't mean there should be an aperture for corporate profiteering," Scharper said. "If human rights aren't being provided, the government has a duty to provide that right. They can provide water from a source that is municipally operated. You don't need the corporate middleman."

We've made hard decisions before. Despite its popularity in manufacturing, for example, asbestos was eventually banned in many countries after decades of investigation into its harms. The city of Paris, France made the tough call this year to ban every car built before 1997 from the roads during daylight hours on weekdays to combat pollution.

Some cities have already begun phasing out bottled water. In 2009, the Australian town of Bundanoon banned bottled water entirely. In 2014, San Francisco voted to ban bottled water on city property. It can be done—all it takes is some political will and motivation.

So, yeah, abolish bottled water.

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