Do the words “bottled at the source” mean anything to you? Okay, I’m already getting way ahead of myself. To ensure transparency, I have to admit that a very good friend of ours is a big wheel down at the bottled water factory. I have never felt the need to have the “do you think bottled water is okay” conversation with him, because I think the answer is obvious. His job does not involve the manufacturing or distribution of either crystal meth or tobacco; sarcasm aside, there are obviously more terrible products he could be linked to than bottled water. That said, in recent times many of the talking heads have called for an all out ban on bottled water, while Kingston is the latest city to jump on the bandwagon. As much as I’m for Kingston setting high environmental standards, I’m not totally convinced that banning bottled water is going to curb consumption.
Nearly 9 years ago, bottled water really started it’s rise to glory after an incident that is best summed up by one word: Walkerton. Soon thereafter bottled water became a cool status symbol, as well as a way to protect your family from that crazy guy controling the cities’ water supply. Nowadays, one can go into a restaurant and order a $20 bottle of Italian high table water, but therein lies one of the problems that taints certain brands. The words “bottled at the source” do not always refer to the purest stream running through a dewy meadow inhabited by mystical woodland critters. In that regard, Pepsi was forced to admit that Aquafina was nothing more than purified tap water, and they are really (pardon the pun) the tip of the iceberg. I mean honestly, nothing says the French Alps like an industrial pipe in Scarborough.
With that in mind, City Councillor Steve Garrison is championing the “back to the tap” movement in Kingston, which would essentially outlaw the sale of bottled water in municipal buildings. He argues that millions of dollars are spent on delivering clean tap water to these buildings, as well as recycling the resulting empty containers. Even so, one could also argue that city tap water tastes bad, and that some reusable bottles (Nalgene) leach Bisphenol A. Who know’s what terrible facts scientists will upcover about today’s “safe” reusable bottles (Klean Kanteen, Sigg) down the road. Even if City Hall, libraries and hockey arenas stop offering water in vending machines, there is little they can do if Joe Kingston decides to sneak in some contraband.
The key environmental argument against bottled water is that there’s too much pollution created during it’s life cycle. Just imagine how many barrels of oil we could save if we stopped producing, delivering and recycling bottled water. Then again, if bottled water never rose to popularity in the first place, far more people would reach for convenient and portable soft drinks to quench their thirst. This scenario would certainly do little to improve our obesity problem.
So what should Kingston do about bottled water? Should we ban it like London, tax it like Chicago, or spend millions on a 5-year study that proves nothing?