Concerned Sippers Want to Can Bottles

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Is bottled water wasteful? A growing number of critics says that exploding sales of the wet stuff isn’t doing the environment any good.

In 2005, 29.8 billion water bottles were sold, almost double the 15 billion bottles sold in 2002. Only 14.5 percent of those bottles are recycled. Cargo ships that brought 64 million gallons of bottled water to California ports in 2006 released 9,700 tons of pollutants, equal to the annual pollution from 1,700 cars.

Plus, the stuff is expensive. Bottled water typically costs $8 per gallon—or more. Columbus residents pay about 0.2 cents per gallon for city tap water.

Dispatch story after the jump.

A purely wasteful product? Tide turning against bottled water as environmental concerns mount

By Spencer Hunt and Bryan Wroten THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Jo Ann Rankin buys bottled water by the pack even though she has a filter built into her refrigerator.

Her granddaughters, the 73-year-old South Linden resident said, prefer the plastic bottles to the tap.

"They call the other 'sink water,' " Rankin said.

After years of staggering sales, bottled water is facing a backlash from health advocates, environmentalists and government officials.

The complaints? Production and shipping contribute to air pollution; empty bottles end up in landfills; and the water often doesn't contain the fluoride kids need.

Rick Westerfield, Columbus' power and water administrator, said residents pay 0.2 cents per gallon for city water that is clean and tastes good.

"I think our drinking water stacks up very well, if not better, to bottled water," he said.

Some cities are taking on bottled water.

Last month, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom banned city purchases of bottled water. Similar bans are in place in Minneapolis, Santa Barbara, Calif., and Salt Lake City, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The mayors group also plans to study the bottled-water industry's environmental impact on city garbage systems and landfills.

Of the 29.8 billion water bottles sold in 2005, more than 80 percent were dumped in landfills instead of recycling bins, according to the Washington-based Container Recycling Institute.

"There's a lot of it in there," said John Remy, spokesman for the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, which runs the Franklin County landfill.

The process to make bottles requires millions of barrels of oil while releasing thousands of tons of global-warming gases.

Then there is the shipping. Cargo ships that brought 64 million gallons of bottled water to California ports released an estimated 9,700 tons of pollutants in 2006, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council study.

That equals the annual pollution from about 1,700 cars.

"We're not saying that you should never drink bottled water," said Jennifer Powers, a spokeswoman for the environmental group.

"Most of the time, plain old tap water is just as good for you, if not better."

Joe Doss, CEO of the International Bottled Water Association, said it's unfair for cities to single out bottled water when so many other beverages come in plastic containers.

"They should be thinking about comprehensive policies to deal with (recycling) issues, not target bottled water," Doss said.

Susan Ashbrook, Mayor Michael B. Coleman's environmental adviser, said the city is considering not handing out water bottles during public events.

"We've just started discussions on that," Ashbrook said.

Copyright © 2007, The Columbus Dispatch