As part of the activities for World Water Week, TAPthirst McGill, an anti-water privatization group, organized and held a workshop entitled “Un-bottle it! Why Not Bottled Water” last Tuesday. The workshop brought together a group of eight students to discuss the social, cultural, and monetary impacts of bottled water consumption on society. The panel was timely as students approved a motion put forward by TAPthirst to ban the sale of bottled water in the Shatner Building at the SSMU General Assembly earlier this semester. The student union at McGill is not alone in its efforts, it appears, and the movement to ban bottled water may be gaining clout. The CBC reported earlier this month that a total of 21 Canadian universities and colleges have created bottle-free zones on their campuses.
TAPthirst argues that the production of plastic water bottles has a negative impact on the environment as the raw ingredients required to make them – terephthalic acid and monoethylene glycol – are very toxic. According to the Container Recycling Institute, a non-profit organization involved in the promotion of recycling beverage containers, more than eight out of ten plastic water bottles in the United States end up in a landfill or incinerator. The bottled water industry is also a very waste-intensive one. The Pacific Institute, a non-profit research institute working toward environmental development, estimates that twice as much water is used in production of a bottle of water than is sold in the bottle.
According to TAPthirst McGill, bottled water is 240-10,000 times more expensive than tap water. Bottled water consumers pay $750 for the same amount of water it costs manufacturers $1.38 to produce.
Laura Beach, a second-year Concordia student majoring in geography and anthropology, said that the consumption of bottled water ultimately prevents the declaration of water as a human right.
“Buying bottled water doesn’t seem like a large act, but it does help promote the privatization of water to a certain extent,” argued Beach.
Caytee Lush, U2 Science and Education, expressed her frustration with the stigma associated with tap water, when most bottled water comes from the same source.
“We have this weird culture where you can’t drink or eat anything if it’s not wrapped in plastic,” she said.
Something that galls activists at TAPthirst is that bottled water companies usually take the water from the municipal system. For example, Dasani water in Canada is simply processed Calgary tap water, and Aquafina is sourced from the systems of Vancouver and Mississauga.
Part of the problem in trying to encourage tap water consumption is the image that many people have of leaky, rusty pipes in the municipal water system.
“I know a lot of people who don’t drink tap water because the infrastructure is really old,” said Pawel Porowski, a third-year geography major at Concordia.
Such prejudices against the municipal water system may be unfounded. Material distributed at the workshop pointed out that while bottled water is only subject to random inspection by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, municipal water is monitored closely and constantly.
Porowski added that there are some problems caused by the aging water infrastructure, but those are mainly the result of water losses in the system.
“Up to 40 per cent of water is lost during transportation to leaks,” he explained.