Tuesday, August 19, 2008

take one down, pass it around, too many bottles of . . . water?

I'm trying to write a little piece on style/fashion, but I'm rethinking and revising and cutting out big sections, so it will be a while. Meanwhile, I noticed this in this morning's news and am so pleased to see this trend starting to gain momentum:

London, Ontario city council has banned (by a vote of 15-3, so quite forcefully) sales of bottled water in all city-run facilities; School boards in Ottawa, Toronto, and Waterloo have already done the same. Here in B.C. at least one school board is considering a similar move, the City of Nelson has already banned the bottles, and numerous city councils and school boards are poised to follow. I'm thrilled to see that London's move will be accompanied with the installation of more water fountains, and I hope we'll see such additions across the country. Drinking water should be a right of the commons, but we've become complacent and allowed the market (and sometimes, in many places, fear of vagrants--one of my running routes in Vancouver consistently has the public fountains turned off and I suspect it's because the tony neighbours around the beachfront are considered about the homeless moving in) to serve our needs rather than insisting that right be maintained. Indeed, in a first-year discussion about water sovereignty (in the context of NAFTA), marketing of bottled water, and water access as a common right, I once had a student ask, tentatively, if one should have access to water without paying taxes. While I welcomed the student's openness to thinking through the issue from this obvious perspective, I gently pointed out that if we accepted these parameters, we had to accept that some might die, water being a basic human need and all.

I'm not adamantly against bottled water, and, in fact, rely on it occasionally when I'm stuck in town for several hours, have forgotten to bring water, and can't find a fountain! But I wouldn't need to do that if there were more of the latter. I also enjoy certain bottled gazeuse waters, especially when I'm being abstemious and their chilled, sparkling presence with a twist of lime in a pretty glass makes up for the lack of wine. However, I think it's important that I be aware that there is an environmental cost in the shipping of these heavy items and enjoy them sparingly rather than thinking of them as an everyday convenience. At least here where our drinking water, while sometimes carrying a tad more chlorine than I might like, is really quite good.

Just so you know that I'm not making any claims about my environmental sainthood, I'll show you pictures of some heavy items I do think worth the long-distance shipping: these sumptuously-packaged, wonderfully scented, milled-seven-times Claus Porto soaps that I looked for all through our Portuguese trips, couldn't find, and then bought at Momentum, two blocks away from our Vancouver apartment. You can see how they would remind me of all the marvellous azulejos I saw in Portugal.

And since I've moved the conversation to Europe, I'll point out that water as part of the Commons is a longstanding tradition there -- when we walked through the Auvergne in the early 90s, we had no problem filling our water bottles as each little town we passed had fountains and even away from the towns there were often taps along the road. In Portugal, in the Serra de Estrella, we saw people carrying huge carbuoys to refill at mountaintop sources. I know that Paris ran a campaign last summer reminding its citizens of this tradition and reminding them that the water in Paris' taps came from a good source and was better environmentally than the bottled water whose plastic remains littered the streets. As a Parisophile, knowing this, I've been more motivated to order eau de robinet (doesn't that sound more sophisticated than tapwater?) in a restaurant regularly, and only occasionally treat myself to the bubblies. Every little bit, right? Baby steps, baby steps.


  1. I miss terribly the Chicago tap water. IMHO Chicago tap water is better than any water from Nordic Glaciers or Javanese Rain forests. However, being back in L.A. the tap water is so bad that I am drinking bottled again. And, there is something about the smartalek lines on the Smart Water bottles that gets me drinking more water. Yep, I am easily manipulated by the marketing.;-)

  2. That's a brave and important step for a City to make. Yes, bottled water is not always a bad thing, it seems like its the prevalence of it. The sheer number of bottles that go into the trash everyday because it's become commonplace.

    BTW - is that soap very moisturizing? It certainly sounds wonderful - milled 7 times? Over the last year or so, my skin has gotten much drier and more sensitive, so I am always on the lookout for even more gentle, moisturizing products than I was using before.

  3. Where have all the water fountains gone? It's not just about conservation that we need to reduce our reliance on bottled water, Coca-Cola drives their big trucks past the thirsty farmers in the fields of drought-ridden countries to extract what small sources of water they have to sell in the cities.

    Our bottled water use has been a big issue in my family. The kids hate it when I fill their sports bottles with tap water. My mini-lectures on the commodification of water are having a slight impact. Unlike us, my children have rarely had a drink from a water fountain. The local parks shut off the taps of existing fountains, and new parks don't have them. It's not surprising then that they think if you need a drink you buy it at 7-eleven or in the vending machine at school. So in addition to convincing my husband that a clothesline in the backyard does not denote trailer trash, but rather eco-chic, I will be doing my part this fall to reduce our reliance on bottled water.

  4. Our company has distributed refillable hot/cold jugs to every employee, but due to the really crappy taste of the tap water in our building, everyone refills from the (bottled) water cooler.

    I'm intruiged by the soap!

  5. LBR: I'm very lucky to live in a place with good-tasting water (the amount of rainfall we get should yield some benefits, no?). My sympathies -- L.A. and water is an issue far beyond my ken!
    Jillian: I have to admit that so far I haven't even tried the soap, just admired it in the packaging -- once I do use it, I plan to slip the soap out very carefully, close the empty wrapper back him and put it back on display!
    Leona: Exactly! The water thing goes beyond environmental concerns to social justice ones -- the convergence of these is something Paul Hawkens explores in Blessed Unrest.
    And yes, I too wonder where the fountains have gone and why/how they got shut off one by one without us noticing or protesting.
    Pseu: The only drinking water I can get in my building is from the bathroom sink, three feet from the toilet -- yuck! Plus all the water on campus tastes stale no matter how long you let it run (a big bad no-no, environmentally, of course). Makes me wonder why they bother with a Wellness office! I keep a kettle and only drink tea or boiled water or bring bottled from home.
    At least with the water cooler, there's less plastic packaging wasted than with the bottles.
    And yes, isn't the soap gorgeous -- you'd love it and it comes in various fragrances and different wrappings. Yet another desirable collectable, oh dear.

  6. Leona, isn't it amazing- what a shift in 25 or so years! I remember the first time I BOUGHT water, $1 for a bottle- I was astounded. Toronto is also considering the bylaw and some restaurants now will not sell bottled water. YES! I compromise at work and drink from the cooler- at least it's bulk.

    At home from the tap- local water is good (and in tests people cannot tell the difference between it and bottled) except if we get very warm weather.

    I love those soaps and also the black Maja ones (Spanish).


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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