Pro: Gord Brown
Bottled water is a scam. You think you are paying for the convenience of having the commodity available when you want it, how you want it (cold), and the illusion of better taste and safety. What you are really paying for is the marketing to maintain these illusions. You pay for the packaging, often portraying a pretty picture of a spring, and not really the product.
Most bottled water is the same as filtered tap water. Coca Cola's Dasani and Pepsi's Aquafina come from “public sources,” that is, municipal water systems. Other bottled water comes from deep wells. By law, it must be treated in the same way as tap water.
Many people do not trust tap water to be as safe as bottled water. Sadly, there are places, such as Walkerton, where that has turned out to be true. In Toronto, however, there are strict and monitored procedures to ensure water safety. Ontario Regulation 170/03 requires the city to annually report on water quality. These reports are freely available through the city website. You can also supplement these with home water filters. Bottled water, provided that it is handled correctly, is safe, but certainly not safer.
Should U of T follow the lead of at least 20 other Canadian universities and ban the sale of bottled water on campus? An argument could be made that banning bottled water precludes those who want to be scammed from participating in their own fleecing. That does not take into consideration the environmental degradation caused by plastic bottles. The main culprit is the fossil fuels used to create the plastic. Water is heavy, so there is also the cost of using fossil fuel for transportation, especially for European brands, which is certainly reflected in their higher price compared to domestic brands.
Recycling is an equally worrying issue. Many bottles are not recycled, especially in Ontario, where there is no bottle deposit; they end up needlessly clogging our landfills. Recycling plastics is an enormous additional cost to waste diversion. For technical reasons, bottlers prefer virgin plastic, so recycled bottles are sold at a loss (offsetting the gains from metal and paper sales) for secondary products, like carpeting.
Recycling is the poor choice relative to the other more effective R's: reduce and replace. Plastic bottles can be replaced with infinitely reusable metal flasks. Consumers save money and reduce their carbon footprints.
Contra: Tomasz Bugajski
In 2008, Toronto City Council passed a by-law banning the sale of bottled water in all city facilities and municipal property, including community centres and offices. The by-law was part of the city’s efforts to reduce waste. The UTSU is also campaigning against the bottle, accusing the bottled water industry of scamming the public and ruining the environment. Over the past few years, municipalities across Canada have introduced bottled water bans of their own. A future ban extending to all retail outlets looks like a possibility.
The argument follows that water is available for free from the tap, rendering the bottled version dispensable; drinks such as Coke or Sprite are not free-flowing, and are therefore salable. Two points are missing: Bottled and tap water are not the same, and the option to purchase bottled water is extremely convenient.
Many bottled water products come from municipal supplies, but are sold only after an additional filtration process. The ban does not account for the varieties of bottled water. Spring water, derived from a natural underground source, is not altered with chemicals. Glacial water, sourced directly from glaciers, and mineral water, which has a higher amount of dissolved mineral salts, appeal to different tastes. I tried several taste tests and these bottled varieties beat the tap.
It is not just a matter of taste. Carrying a reusable container is not always possible, and finding sinks or water fountains for refills can be difficult. It is worth spending a dollar or two to avoid the hassle.
Demand for bottled water has risen over the last decades. Between 1998 and 2006, Canadians more than doubled their consumption. This lead to large international beverage companies seeking Canadian manufacturing and distribution facilities, employing many Canadians. In 2005, domestic sales of bottled water reached $652.7 million. Bottled water is something many want to buy.
Limiting people’s choices infringes on freedom of enterprise. A total ban would set a negative precedent for consumers and businesses, and would likely lead to more restrictions on what we can buy (or sell). The city should increase the number of water fountains if it wants to dissuade people from buying bottled water.
Plastic bottles are detrimental to the environment; however, imagine a complete ban on bottled water when it is a hot day in the city with no water fountains or bathrooms in sight, only a convenience store. If advocates of a ban get their way, we would have no choice but sugar-filled pop and juice.