By Adam Guzman-Poole
Do you know that one in five Canadians drink all of their water from throw-away plastic bottles? And do you know that despite the determined efforts to recycle these bottles most of them end up in landfills or are discarded into the environment? To address this problem, a group of concerned citizens in Ottawa has banded together to form the Ottawa Water Study/Action Group (OWSAG).
OWSAG realizes that there are times when drinking water from plastic bottles can be appropriate – for example during times of breakdown in the municipal water supply or when travelling in areas where regulated tap water is not available. However, OWSAG does have serious concerns about the present trend in many parts of the world for persons who have a functioning, well regulated tap water system, to consume all of their drinking water in throwaway plastic bottles.
The bottled water industry promotes their product as a healthier alternative to tap water. On rare occasions, negligent management of piped water systems, such as occurred at Walkerton, are presented as reasons why tap water cannot be trusted. However, the fact is that tap water in the developed world is much more regulated then bottled water. Many more potentially harmful ingredients are tested for, more frequently, than with bottled water.
The most devastating critique of the widespread use of bottled water is based on environmental reasons. The material from which plastic bottles are manufactured comes from fossil reserves. These fossil reserves are non renewable. These fossil reserves, deep in the earth, can be used for a spectacular amount of different uses. Demand for these fossil reserves is growing on a world wide basis. In the near future, if not already, the supply of these finite reserves will decrease and their price will inevitably rise. At present we are using these valuable reserves in environmentally harmful ways. Their use as fuel for internal combustion engines is a major contributor to global warming. Plastic throwaway containers of all kinds are also contributing to the befouling of our environment. Plastic bottles for water fall into this category.
The most powerful reason that OWSAG is against the present widespread use of plastic throwaway bottles for water delivery is that we have a more economic, more efficient, more environmentally friendly alternative, namely our piped water systems. After many decades of hard work and investment we in North America have developed municipal water systems that are among the best in the world! These systems deliver reliable, safe drinking water at extremely low cost (less than one Canadian dollar per 1000 litres). By comparison, bottled water frequently reaches costs that are more than 1000 times as much as safe tap water.
Eric Schiller is a founding member of OWSAG and a retired University of Ottawa civil engineering professor.