Mayors push benefits of cities’ tap water
Once hailed as a healthy and convenient beverage alternative, bottled water recently has been met with a tidal wave of criticism from municipal leaders for its high cost and its effect on solid waste streams. In response, major cities and the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) have passed measures to limit the use of bottled water and to encourage consumers to drink tap water instead. Bottled water advocates refute the claims that the product is environmentally harmful and encourage consumers to recycle the plastic containers to cut down on waste.
San Francisco cancelled its bottled water contract last June, and Chicago has placed a 5-cent tax on all bottled water sold within city limits. USCM passed a resolution in June encouraging cities to phase out bottled water where feasible, while promoting responsible recycling habits among residents. The USCM resolution cites economic and environmental issues for the suggested phase-out, as well as the energy costs of producing and transporting plastic bottles.
Albuquerque, N.M., Mayor Martin Chávez says the resolution demonstrates the need for fiscal responsibility with tax dollars, explaining that bottled water is an inexpensive commodity for which bottling companies overcharge. “If you can buy pens for $1 each, you wouldn’t spend $1,000 each on them, but that is the kind of markup that you get with bottled water,” he says.
In June, Fayetteville, Ark., Mayor Dan Coody issued a decree to limit city spending on bottled water to emergency relief efforts only. Citing 2007 research from the Oakland, Calif.-based Pacific Institute that found it takes the energy equivalent of about 17 million barrels of oil a year to make plastic bottles for water and transport them around the country, Coody says that the product is largely unnecessary when residents can much more easily fill a glass of water from the tap.
Some mayors, however, say the restrictions unfairly target the bottled water industry, and that local leaders should focus on improving consumers’ recycling habits. Craig Stevens, spokesperson for the Washington-based American Beverage Association, says that local officials have a responsibility to inform residents about proper recycling habits. “It’s all about teaching people to … look for a recycling bin when disposing of their plastic water bottles,” he says.
Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Patrick McCrory and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Mayor Don Robart co-sponsored a separate USCM resolution, which did not pass, to avoid creating false conflicts between water supply stakeholders, and encourages recycling and efforts to control fossil fuel consumption. Robart says the non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverage industry in the United States has made tremendous strides in the past several years to encourage recycling and reduce the amount of plastic in water bottles.
Canton, Ohio, Mayor William Healy says the USCM resolution and ordinances against bottled water will not solve the real problem. “Outlawing bottled water in a handful of American cities will do nothing to solve the danger these containers pose to our environment when not recycled properly,” Healy says. “Reducing the average consumer’s desire for bottled liquids at the individual level and encouraging recycling is the only way we will make lasting change.”
— Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.