Last week, a few hundred residents in the town of Concord, Mass. gathered at their town hall and voted to impose a ban on all bottled water. The ban, which will take effect in January, is a significant gesture from residents who believe that bottled water is unnecessary and bad for the environment.
Unfortunately, less than two days after the town’s vote, a water main broke in Boston, reducing the supply of drinking water in dozens of towns near Concord, which is just 20 miles from the city. As the Boston Globe notes, “No one here could have imagined there would be such a dramatic counterpoint to their controversial vote over the weekend, when thirsty residents in about 30 communities began to raid store shelves.”
Still, citizens stood behind their vote, even as they were tested by extreme conditions. “I have no second thoughts about this vote,’’ one citizen told the Boston Globe. “The problem is that when there isn’t a crisis, too many people use bottled water instead of tap water, and that creates a lot of pollution.’’
But Boston’s water crisis seems to be ending now, which means we can move on to the larger debate about whether bottled water is necessary or dangerous under normal circumstances. Concord was not the first town to ban bottled water completely. That distinction goes to a town in Australia that prohibited it last year. Meanwhile, city employees in Seattle and San Francisco have been ordered not to buy bottled water, though they have not banned it for regular citizens. Chicago voted in favor of a controversial tax on bottled water and even New York has considered phasing it out of government agency offices.
In each of these cases, there seem to be two big arguments against bottled water. The first is that it is environmentally unfriendly since plastic is often wasted unnecessarily. One study in 2005 found that just 12% of the 30 billion plastic water bottles sold in the U.S. were recylced, with the rest ending up as litter or in landfills.
The second point is that bottled water is too costly, both for the city and the consumer. As the mayor of San Francisco said when he issued a ban, “For the price of one 1 gallon (3.8 liters) of bottled water, local residents can purchase 1,000 gallons of tap water. All of this waste and pollution is generated by a product that by objective standards is often inferior to the quality of San Francisco's pristine tap water.” In fact, popular brands like Dasani and Aquafina are actually just tap water in disguise.
It seems unlikely that the U.S. will ban bottled water outright any time soon, but do you think states should begin taking up that initiative? Or do you feel that bottled water is not really a threat worth policing?