Bottled Water Boycotts

I would like to deviate a bit from my usual column to highlight a piece my colleague Janet Larsen has just written on bottled water.

She writes of a growing movement away from bottled water back to tap water. For instance, Janet says "the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which represents some 1,100 American cities, discussed at its June 2007 meeting the irony of purchasing bottled water for city employees and for city functions while at the same time touting the quality of municipal water." The group passed a resolution that called for the examination of bottled water's environmental impact, noting that with $43 billion a year going to provide clean drinking water in cities across the country, "the United States' municipal water systems are among the finest in the world."

Los Angeles has long restricted the purchase of bottled water with city funds. By the end of this year, Janet notes that "purchasing bottled water will be off-limits for San Francisco's departments and agencies, saving a half-million dollars each year and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
St. Louis is poised to ban bottled water purchases for city employees in early 2008.
In November, Chicago placed a landmark tax of 5¢ on every bottle of water sold in the city in order to discourage consumption. That same month, Illinois state agencies were banned from purchasing bottled water with government funds.

Janet notes that 86 percent of used water bottles in the United States end up as garbage or litter instead of being recycled. Thus, switching from the bottle to the tap helps to alleviate the trash burden.

You can get a listing of other local governments that are talking up tap water and looking into banning the bottle see for a list and additional data.

As Janet says, "Tap water promotional campaigns would have seemed quaint a few decades ago, when water in bottles was a rarity. Now such endeavors are needed to counteract the pervasive marketing that has caused consumers to lose faith in the faucet."
Perhaps not surprisingly, more than a quarter of bottled water is just processed tap water. Yet Americans on average each now drink about 30 gallons of bottled water a year at a price tag of $15 billion.

Janet notes that bottled water is incredibly wasteful. "It is usually packaged in single-serving plastic bottles made with fossil fuels. Just manufacturing the 29 billion plastic bottles used for water in the United States each year," she writes, "requires the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of crude oil."

Janet also talks about bottled water consumption in Europe. Italians drank 54 gallons per person in 2006. (Americans drink 30 gallons per person.) Closely trailing Italy are the United Arab Emirates and Mexico, followed by France, Belgium, Germany, and Spain.

Yet even here, she says, "the bottle is starting to lose clout." Rome is promoting its tap water. Florence's city council, schools, and other public offices offer only city water. In the United Kingdom, the Treasury and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have ceased offering bottled water at official functions. Bottled water sales in Scandinavia are projected to fall because of growing environmental concerns. And in Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë serves only tap water at official events.
"With more than 1 billion people around the globe still lacking access to a safe and reliable source of water," Janet says, "the $100 billion the world spends on bottled water every year could certainly be put to better use creating and maintaining safe public water infrastructure everywhere."

I encourage all to read the full report: Bottled Water Boycotts.

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