The debate over bottled water continues… with those who dislike bottled water continuing to miss the point.
Just over a year ago I wrote this piece on why bottled water haters have it wrong. Today, anti-bottled water activists press on, trying to get municipalities to ban bottled water sales. This quote in the Globe and Mail by Joe Cressy, the Polaris Institute’s drinking-water campaign coordinator again shows the problematic thinking behind the campaign.
“(This) resolution is a resounding victory and the latest indication that bottled water’s 15 minutes are up and the tap is back.”
“In the same way that Coca-Cola doesn’t sell Pepsi in its buildings, we’re very pleased to see the FCM encouraging municipalities not to provide bottled water on city property.”
So three comments on this quote.
First, there are all sorts of other drinks that will continue to be sold on city properties: Coke, Orange Juice, Fruitopia all of which contain a lot more sugar and are generally less healthy for you than… water. Banning water may be seen as a victory, unless it means someone is going to buy something else, something that is less healthy and will increase health costs over the long term.
Second, the line about Coca-Cola not selling pepsi in their building reveals a lot about the flawed logic. Anti-bottle water activists will claim that people should be drinking tap water, not bottled water, because it is just as good. But this usually isn’t why people drink bottled water. People don’t just drink it for the flavour or safety (if they do at all) but because it is convenient. I always drink water from the tap if a restaurant provides me a glass, but what if I want to head out around town? Or am in my car? I’m now essentially being told I should make a less healthy choice – since I can’t buy water, I’ll have to buy pop or juice. Not everyone wants to, or will, carry around a water bottle everywhere they go and fill it up with tap water. Many (if not most) people simply prefer not to. If you try to force them, most will probably end up making a worse choice, like buying a Coke.
Finally, those opposed to bottled water are part of two distinct camps. The first are those who are opposed to someone charging for water under any circumstances. I’ve already noted that people aren’t buying the water, they are buying convenience. The second group of people are those who are concerned about the waste generated by bottled water. I am squarely in this camp – deeply concerned about the environmental impact of these containers. Here, however, we have lots of models that are less radical than an outright ban. Legislating, or simply encouraging, bottled water manufacturers to create a deposit system for their bottles would be a good first start. I suspect that if 100% of water bottles were recycled (as they should be) support for bottled water bans would dry up pretty fast.
Let’s hope a sensible solution for the challenge of bottled water waste emerges. One that doesn’t drive consumers to purchasing the diabetes-inducing sugar drinks that are the real competition.