Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Interview with Think Outside the Bottle

Q: What's wrong with drinking bottled water anyway? A: That’s a really tough question because bottled water is riddled with problems. As soon as you dive into one problem, five others pop up.

To make a futile attempt at scratching the surface, bottled water is changing the way we think about water. Bottled water corporations are transforming a public good and a human right into a commodity to be bought and sold on the shelf next to cereal and laundry detergent. When that happens, our environment, our health, and our democracy suffers.

In terms of the environment, bottled water racks up a huge carbon footprint. From manufacturing the plastic for the bottles to transportation, if you calculate how much oil is used it would fill every bottle up 1/4 with petroleum. Gross, right? In New York, these bottles can’t even be recycled. Our friends with Surfrider and a number of other organizations like NYPIRG and Citizens Campaign for the Environment are working on the Bigger Better Bottle Bill to make sure that non-carbonated beverages can be traded in for money to be recycled, but for now, they fill up our landfills and create an enormous amount of non-biodegradable litter.

The health issues have been covered a lot recently by the media. Petroleum-base plastics, like those used for bottled water, can leach carcinogens into the water. Personally, I’d rather not take that risk.

In terms of our democracy, it threatens the political will to sufficiently fund our public water systems. There has been a frighteningly steady decline in funding for water infrastructure. Right now, water infrastructure receives 3% of the funding it needs, creating a 22 billion dollar funding gap between what our public water systems are allocated and what they need. Meanwhile, Americans spend 15 billion dollars a year on bottled water! When we drink bottled water, we’re sending the wrong message about our support for public officials to adequately fund our public water.

The biggest problem, however, isn’t individuals choosing to drink bottled water. It’s bottled water corporations using clever marketing to diminish public confidence in our tap water, then buying up public water sources, bottling the water, and selling it back to us at thousands of times the price. In the midst of a world water crisis where one billion people don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water, we have to ask ourselves, who do we want controlling access to water? Corporations who’s bottom line is profit or or democratically-elected government?

So stop drinking bottled water, but also let your public officials know that you support them resisting corporate control of our water resources!

Q: How does NYC tapwater rate?
A: For the answer to that question, as I’m no expert on NYC Tap Water, I defer to Elizabeth Royt, author of Bottlemania. Check out her NY Times article on water
. To draw a quote from the article: “As city officials, water connoisseurs and native boosters have long declared, New York tap water is among the world’s purest and tastiest. It is praised in foreign-language guidebooks, and some city bakers credit its mineral content and taste for their culinary success.”
Suffice to say, New York City is one of four major cities in the US who don’t have to filter it’s public water because the watershed ecosystem is so healthy. However, with inadequate funding, that could change, which is why we need to support investments in green water infrastructure and watershed conservation projects.

Q: Where does all this bottled water come from?
A: The fact is, 40% of bottled water IS tap water and comes from municipal sources. Dasani and Aquafina, for example, draw their water from public water sources. We recently ran a successful campaign to get Aquafina to put that fact on every bottle, which they now do. However, the real problem is that they are not required by law to publish where their water comes from whereas with tap water, you can always go to the DEP website and find out exactly what’s in it and where it comes from.

Q: What has Think Outside the Bottle accomplished thus far?
A: Our biggest campaign accomplishment has been our most recent campaign. I
ncreasing numbers of cities, restaurants, institutions, and individuals are turning back to the tap and away from expensive, branded bottled water. Because of our efforts, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution at their 2008 annual meeting encouraging cities across the country to phase out government use of bottled water and promote the importance of strong public water systems. Already, more than 60 major cities have responded to this resolution and have taken common sense actions to protect the environment, save money, and restore confidence in our public water supplies. We are eager to see similar actions taken at the state level.

Q: How can people get involved and further your work?
A: The best way to get involved is to come to our first community meeting tonight at 7pm at 445 6th Street in Brooklyn to kick-off our New York campaign. We’re starting up local community groups like this in states across the country to work on getting restaurants, institutions, and public officials in their neighborhoods, cities, and states to opt out of bottled water by signing our Think Outside the Bottle pledge. In New York, we’ll be working on reaching out to Governor Paterson in order to ask him to sign our pledge to cut state spending on bottled water and support renewed investment in our underfunded public water systems. In order to do that, we need to show him that enough of his constituents support him doing this.
In the meantime, you can help out right now by signing this petition to Governor Paterson asking him to Think Outside the Bottle and then forward it on to 20 friends.

1 comment:

ERoyte said...

Hi. Just wanted to say that PET water bottles (stamped with a number 1 on the bottom) are completely recyclable in New York City. (Recycling them is, in fact, the law.)Even better than curbside recycling, as John says, would be including water bottles in the state's bottle bill. (States with bottle bills recycle beverage containers at double -- or more -- the rate of states without a Bottle Bill.) Urge your elected leaders to expand the bottle bill!
- Elizabeth Royte (