Plastic water bottles are without a doubt wasteful, expensive and perhaps unnecessary but should the City of Vancouver follow San Francisco and ban them outright?
This past month, San Francisco voted to be the first U.S. city to outright ban the sale of packaged water bottles on city property. This move has been both applauded, by advocates of the green movement, and derided by those in the beverage industry and some health officials. It’s speculated that while San Francisco will reduce their contribution to landfill waste with this ban (they hope to be zero waste by 2020) this could also result in consumers choosing carbonated, sugary beverages rather than water out of convenience.
So the question remains, should Vancouver, a city that is consistently mentioned along with San Francisco as one of North America’s ‘greenest’, follow suit?
First, let’s look at the facts. In the U.S. alone, plastic water bottles sales equal 50 billion units. Despite our best intentions, only 25-30% of those are recycled. Producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation and contributes more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. In the end, it takes more than three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water.
Aside from the environmental effects, consumers are paying a hefty price. The recommended eight glasses of water a day, at U.S. tap rates, equals about 49 cents a year. The same amount of bottled water costs about $1,400.
That being said, we live in a free market society, and clearly we are supporting the demand for these products. But that may not be the case for much longer. Glenn Bailey, former CEO of Canadian Springs Bottled Water sold his company to found WA-2! a water filtration company. Glenn believes the market is making it’s own mind up about the shift from bottled water to more sustainable options, “People don’t think that their one bottle purchase is affecting the world, but when everyone has that mentality it starts to have a big impact. We as individuals can all make a difference if we start making a change, and people will start adapting; Just like smoking inside or on planes, or bike lines, or rapid transit. Logic always wins.”
Cities like Toronto and London, Ontario have passed measures to reduce or ban water bottles and Vancouver had plans at one point. There was a push to ban plastic water bottles a few years ago, but that fizzled out once the Winter Olympics arrived bringing in millions of dollars in water bottle sales for vendors like Coca-Cola. It’s estimated that Coca-Cola sold over seven million beverages during the Olympics. As for whether a plastic water bottle ban would lead to an increase of soft drink sales, Glenn believes otherwise, “We adapt. People need to drink eight glasses of water a day, they are not going to drink eight cokes a day.”
So should Vancouver revisit this issue? And does the city even have the jurisdiction to do so? One reason plastic bags remain is because enacting such a ban is beyond the scope of municipal jurisdiction and instead falls under provincial regulations. So if banning the plastic water bottle does fall under municipal ruling, should it be done?