Mayor Denis Coderre's comment has alarmed the bottled water industry, while delighting environmentalists.
The mayor of Montreal has created a stir by saying that “plastic-bottled water is next on the city’s environmental to-do list.” While mayor Denis Coderre has not yet outlined what he intends to do about bottled water, the underlying assumption is that Montreal will follow in the footsteps of other major cities to create restrictions on where bottled water is sold, in hopes of encouraging city residents and visitors to consider greener, reusable options.
A few other cities have already done so. In 2013 Concord, Massachusetts, banned the sale of water in plastic bottles that are one liter (34 ounces) or less. In 2014 San Francisco banned the sale of 21-ounce plastic water bottles on city-owned property. The Globe & Mail reports:
“More than 80 Canadian towns and cities restrict the use of bottled water, including Montreal. Most involve activities in municipal buildings but in Toronto it extends to parks, facilities and civic centres. Many post-secondary institutions also do the same.”
Representatives from the Canadian Beverage Association are concerned by Coderre’s comment and have hired a lobbyist to take on the city. Martin-Pierre Pelletier argues that it does not make sense to ban bottled water because it deprives people of choice and pushes them toward much unhealthier options, such as soda. While Pelletier is correct that people do consume more sugary beverages when bottled water is not available, as discovered by the University of Vermont, that does not make it acceptable to continue with a practice that is known to be so environmentally harmful.
The arguments for supporting the sale of bottled water simply do not hold water. We survived as a species without bottled water until very recently, which shows there is nowhere on Earth that cannot get by without it. We possess the technology to purify water sources that are not sufficiently clean to drink and to maintain them; it’s a question of priority for government more than anything else, particularly when bottled water is so cheap and widely available.
The effect on communities where water is taken for bottling is profound and long-lasting. Watch the short documentary from the Story of Stuff to learn more about what companies like Nestlé do when they show up in rural towns or continue to pump water out of national forests, disregarding a permit that expired nearly 30 years ago. The sheer quantity of water withdrawn from waterways and aquifers is hurting places such as California, which are already suffering from drought. The plastic pollution created by so many cheap, empty bottles is immense.
It is tragic to hear officials say that remote indigenous communities need bottled water, as it is their only option for clean drinking water. Those are precisely the communities that should not be importing plastic bottles. Without any recycling facilities nearby, those bottles end up in landfill or in waterways or forests, where they remain forever, leaching into the ground and getting ingested by animals that mistake them for food.
As one commenter wrote on the Globe & Mail article, “Unless recycling is 100 percent, plastic bottles should be banned.” The current rate is around 70 percent, but that estimate comes from the Canadian Bottled Water Association and likely to be overly generous. Let's hope Coderre leads the city of Montreal toward greener, more sustainable habits.