Sometimes, being environmentally friendly can be a little daunting. There are so many issues – climate change, deforestation, pollution, consumption, food security… the list can seem endless and overwhelming. At times like these, it’s important to be reminded that despite the worldwide scale of many of these problems, even small actions by individuals are significant and important, and that every person can be a part of a positive global change.
Today is international Bottled Water Free Day, and in light of this I invite every person reading to be part of a positive environmental and social change by choosing to stop buying and consuming bottled water. There are a number of reasons that reducing or eliminating the consumption of bottled water is an important environmental action, and I will begin by harkening back to the elementary-school fundamentals of environmentally friendly practices: the three R’s.
The U.S. environmental consumer watchdog Food and Water Watch estimates that with all the fossil fuels required to make plastic bottles, fill them, transport them and subsequently recover, recycle or dispose of them, each water bottle’s life cycle uses an equivalent of 25 per cent of that bottle filled with oil.
Similarly, it has been estimated that the whole manufacturing process requires twice as much water as the bottle itself carries, so each bottle of water uses triple the water it actually holds for direct human consumption.
Oil, as we all know, is a non-renewable resource, and a rapidly depleting one at that. Any way that we can reduce our consumption of fossil fuels will mean that more of them remain to be used by future generations. Water, despite being a renewable resource, is threatened around the world as extraction rates exceed the natural replenishment rates. Although Canada is well-endowed with freshwater compared to the rest of the world, it makes no sense to use it in unnecessary industrial production.
Despite how handy plastic water bottles may seem for reuse, it is actually recommended that standard vending-machine type water bottles (#1 plastic) not be reused over and over again, as over time they may begin to leach the phthalate (plasticizer) DEHP, which is thought to be a human carcinogen.
Though #1 plastic is easily recycled and accepted at nearly all recycling stations across campus and around Canada, most water bottles aren’t actually diverted from landfills. In Toronto, it has been estimated that fewer than 50 per cent of water bottles end up being recycled, which means that in that city alone 65 million bottles end up in the landfill every year.
If the pure environmental reasoning isn’t convincing enough, consider the fact that bottled water is not any safer than water from the taps, at least in a city such as Montreal that is fortunate enough to have a well-functioning water system. According to environmental think-tank the Polaris Institute, bottled water is inspected as a food product under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which means it is inspected an average of only once every three years, whereas municipal water is tested continuously throughout and after treatment. Furthermore, bottled water is not fluoridated, the lack of which – though fluoridation is controversial in itself – has been associated with increased dental health problems, especially in children.
In addition to this, the pure economics of bottled water consumption are ridiculous. An 800 millilitre, stainless steel, endlessly-reusable (until you wear it out because you love it and use it so much) water bottle might cost you $15 to 20 and is then free to fill for the rest of your life, whereas a 500 millilitre bottle of water may cost between $.50 to 1.50, depending on where or how you purchase it, but is only useful one time. Similarly, it has been shown that many bottled-water companies do not get their water from a particularly pure or natural source, but instead take tap water, filter it, and then use it to fill the bottles, which are sold for incredibly inflated prices. Why pay a company to re-filter water that has already been tested and found to be good enough for human consumption?
From an environmental and economic standpoint, it is clear that the consumption of bottled water does not make sense. Other issues also come into play, such as those related to the politics of privatization of a resource that should be a human right and a public good, but for everyone out there who feels like they simply don’t know what actions to take at this point in order to foster positive environmental change, I offer this as an olive branch. Join us in celebrating Bottle Water Free Day, and celebrate the fact that we are lucky enough to live in a country that provides us with safe, clean drinking water free of charge.
Robin Reid-Fraser is a U1 Arts student. She can be reached at robin.reid-fraser@mail.