Dear Mayor Fontana and Members of London City Council:
The purpose of this letter is to bring light to some of the many issues with bottled water. The ones I wish to highlight are with the water itself, the plastic and the health issues.
I am writing this letter as a concerned citizen and on behalf of Waste Free World (WFW), a London based grassroots organization. WFW works in collaboration with local citizens and organizations to raise awareness and find a solution around our need to eliminate unnecessary waste on a finite planet.
In nature, plants are made up of the basic building blocks of all life, carbon dioxide and water and through help from the sun these plants become miniature power houses producing energy and oxygen for animals and humans. When the plants and animals die and decompose the elements are returned to the environment for reuse. If we constantly bombard and interrupt this process with toxins and the introduction of such compounds as plastics, not part of the natural cycle, eventually our ecosystem will cease to be able to provide for our needs.
We are choking the planet with plastic – plastic cannot be broken down in any great quantity by the decomposers that currently exist in nature. Therefore it accumulates – even when the bonds that hold the plastic together break apart we are still left with toxic bits of plastic dust. This then enters our food chain and water systems as birds, plants and animals mistake it for nourishment.
Polluted air comes from the burning of fossil fuels caused in part by the production and transportation of heavy bottles of water and the collection and transportation of those bottles to a recycling facility.
Dr. Peter Gleick, an expert on water policy and president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California9] said: “Overall, the average energy cost to make the plastic, fill the bottle, transport it to market and then deal with the waste would be "like filling up a quarter of every bottle with oil." This I think you will agree is a gross misuse of a non renewable resource.
Switching from the bottle to the tap helps to reduce the use of oil - and helps to alleviate the trash burden created by the 25% or more of bottles that do not make it to recycling facilities. While we each struggle to cut down on our consumption of fossil fuels, bottled water increases it.
In the manufacture of a 1 litre plastic bottle it requires anywhere from 3 to 5 litres of water. We are throwing away water to sell water.
Safe drinking water is readily available at the turn of a tap without the above listed impacts to our environment. There are many towns that suffer because we have bottled water. There are aquifers that are depleted, water tables lowered, roads damaged and air quality compromised by the extraction and production of bottled water. Yes a few jobs are provided in the area of the water removal, but that is short term gain for long term damage to the environment and the lifestyle of an entire community.
Water is the basis of all life and needs to be seen as a basic human right. To commodify it and put the power in the hands of multinational corporations is putting the right to life in their hands as well.
In Victoria Park over the past few summers efforts have been made to reduce waste. Surveys indicated Londoners were overwhelmingly in favour of reusables and were grateful to have the option of filling their water bottles from the water fountains and the bottle filling station. When we use reusables instead of disposables the impact on our resources and landfills is significant.
David Suzuki is quoted as saying: “Canadians who want to do something about the environment should start by drinking tap water.”
Dan Huggins, Water Quality Manager for the City stated, at a local Water Forum, that in a survey 81% of Londoners did not know where their tap water came from. If citizens don’t know this, they probably don’t know the level of quality control that goes into ensuring that a safe reliable supply reaches their tap – but they sure know about the supposedly “superior” quality of the water in plastic bottles – yet the bottled water companies are not mandated to tell us where that water comes from nor do they have the same rigid testing requirements as municipal water.
Since the 2008 decision made by Council, there has been further research findings. One of the most disturbing was made in 2009 by researchers, Martin Wagner and Jorg Oehlmanm, at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany who have identified estrogens in bottled water that they claim have leached from the plastic packaging. "We must have identified just the tip of the iceberg in that plastic packaging may be a major source of -- man-made substance that has a hormone-like effect -- . Our findings provide an insight into the potential exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals -- low-dose exposure to chemicals that interact with hormone receptors that may interfere with reproduction, development and other hormonally mediated processes -- due to unexpected sources of contamination."
The study adds to growing concerns about products that span the plastic spectrum, says Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in New York. "I used to say: '4, 5, 1, and 2. All the rest are bad for you,'" she says, referring to the recycling codes on plastic products. "Now, I'm not saying that anymore. We don't know about 4, 5, 1, or 2. This raises questions about all plastic bottles."
One endocrine disruptor is pthalate: Pthalates are mainly used as plasticizers (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity) and have been found in bottled water. They are of potential health concern because they are known as endocrine disruptors of animals, and some research has implicated them in the rise of birth defects of the male reproductive system. Endocrine disruptors interfere with natural hormones in the body responsible for the maintenance of normal cell metabolism, reproduction, development, and/or behavior."
These findings, I believe, indicate a huge health issue that points to the need to eliminate bottled water. For years bisphenol A was allowed as a component of plastic baby bottles until the anecdotal evidence from mothers forced researchers and governments to look more closely at the possible health effects. Bisphenol A is now banned in baby bottles after years of allowing it. Are you willing to take the risk that the plastic in bottled water is safe, when in fact evidence is mounting to prove otherwise?
In a report released in March 2005, the UN stated that Canada is second to Finland for the world’s highest water quality but warned Canadians not to let the abundant supply of clean water lull them into complacency.
At the May 26th 2008 meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students a motion to oppose bottled water was unanimously passed. Since that time many campuses have eliminated the sale of bottled water and others are in the process. The public is demanding change. Our youth are demanding change.
In June 2008, 250 mayors in the US made a proposal to support a ban on bottled water. Leaders are waking up to the issues with bottled water.
London has a mandate from the provincial government to maximize waste diversion. WFW’s view is to eliminate at source. One logical and easy step is with bottled water not just because there is a need to slash disposable trash but because there is a safe, reliable, inexpensive alternative at the turn of a tap.
In the London Free Press on August 11, 2008, Scott MacKay president of Probe Research responded to Nestle’s claim that without bottled water consumers will turn to less healthful bottled drinks. Scott stated that the survey results shouldn’t be used as evidence consumers who can’t buy bottled water will buy other bottled beverages instead. “I don’t think we have data to support that. It’s an inference at best”, he said. If it is inference it is therefore not fact but only something that the Nestle spin doctors put out there in hopes that no one will challenge the information. To assume that there will be an increase in obesity and diabetes if people do not have the choice of bottled water is misleading. Bottled water has been a choice for at least 20 years and in that time obesity and diabetes has had a steady increase. In light of this, it doesn’t appear that bottled water is the solution to these health issues.
If water fountains are a concern as some see them as unsanitary the solution is not bottled water but an improved infrastructure to keep them clean. Also, there needs to be a strategy to provide the correct type of fountain with a goose neck attachment so people can easily refill their personal water bottle without concern. What we need to concentrate on is making the tap water safe, the fountains safe, and citizens knowledgeable about the true value of tap water in our society and why the infrastructure that supports it needs to be funded not only for today but for the future.
Bottled water is a convenience not a necessity. Our own health and the health of the environment is a necessity not a convenience. In summary, the quality of bottled water is a concern, the plastic is a concern and the resulting health consequences are concerns.
I am hopeful you will show leadership to the public and do what is right for all Londoners by maintaining the previous Council decision to eliminate the sale of bottled water in city owned facilities and by strengthening your resolve to continue to make our municipal water accessible and the safest it can be.