Monday, 19 December 2016

The sin of bottled water

As the year draws to a close I will post this piece that I wrote a couple of months ago. It's still relevant, always relevant. It's about one of my pet peeves - bottled water.

Water, Water Everywhere ?

Remember water fountains? They’re becoming as scarce as phone booths. I recently visited The Rideau Centre, which has almost completed a 360 million dollar renovation and expansion project. I became tired, thirsty and cranky when I couldn’t find a water fountain.  That’s because there are no water fountains in the entire mall. This is not an isolated occurrence. It’s a calculated move. Some university buildings in Ontario and B.C. are encountering similar situations, as companies like Coca Cola and PepsiCo obtain contracts to provide all beverages sold on campus. How much control has been given to these companies when people lose access to water fountains?

Another giant in the beverage business is Nestle. For months now they have been waging a David and Goliath battle - the township of Centre Wellington (in southwestern Ontario) against Nestle Waters Canada, a subsidiary of the Swiss based multinational Nestle S.A. 

Why should Ottawa residents care about water fights in southwestern Ontario? It’s because the province has stepped into this discussion and wants your opinion. It could be our water sites that are affected next.

Nestle already has two water sites in the Guelph/Wellington area; at Aberfoyle and Erin. They are allowed to extract 4.7 million litres a day there. However, that’s not enough for Nestle, the company that brings you San Pellegrino, Montclair, Perrier, Smarties and Delissio Pizza, among other products. No, this summer they outbid Centre Wellington for the rights to a third aquifer at Middlebrook, near Elora. Centre Wellington wanted to buy the aquifer so they could supply drinking water to their growing population.

After months of campaigning by environmental groups, the Ontario government has opened the door to possible changes in the water selling business. On October 17th, Keith Leslie of The Canadian Press reported that “the Ontario government posted a proposed regulation for public comment that would impose a moratorium until 2019 on water taking permits for new or expanded operations that take groundwater to bottle and sell. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change will also stop issuing permits for pump tests that determine the quality and quantity of water available for bottling until the province completes a review of its regulations.” Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray, stated that “This really deals with the issue of water being withdrawn from aquifers and groundwater that isn’t returned and we just came through a summer of significant water stress.”

The absurdity of a town not being able to buy and use its own natural resource has galvanized attention from many quarters.  CBC comedians Gavin Crawford and Rick Mercer have joined the fray. On the September 30th edition of Because News, comedian Crawford sang his version of the old Coca Cola ad, I’d Like to teach the World to Sing:

“I’d like to buy your H2O,
for my own company
And sell you plastic bottles of
What you once got for free.”

That pretty well sums it up. Millions of consumers have been convinced to pay for something they can get for free. It’s practically free for Nestle as well. In his October 11th rant Rick Mercer pointed out that Ontario sells water at the rate of $3.71 per million litres.  Bottled water companies, golf clubs, municipalities and construction companies are currently allowed to take 1.4 trillion litres of surface and ground water every day!

Not only do we have the issue of taking water that should belong to local residents. We also have the waste of energy used in the manufacture and recycling of plastic bottles. At the end of the day the majority of bottles end up in landfill. In the Bottlegate episode of TVO’s Water Brothers series, hosts Alex and Tyler Mifflin pointed out that Toronto recycling facilities receive 700 000 plastic water bottles every day. Toronto landfills are deluged with 65 million water bottles every year!

Clearly our water situation is out of hand. The Ontario government’s recent decision,  to study the whole process is a baby step in the right direction. Premier Kathleen Wynne said she wants to hear from Ontarians as the government overhauls the water taking permit program. Let her know what you think.

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