Tuesday 24 March 2009

Free water is good ... unless it's filling your basement

It's kind of ironic that, as flood waters are set to wreck a path of destruction throughout the Red River Valley, the students and President of the U of W are banning bottled water because it should not be "commoditized." What about when you have so much of it that it's destroying your house. Then can you commoditize it? I am a little bit surprised that Mr Lloyd Axworthy is playing along with this misguided starry-eyed idealism, but I guess taking away personal choice fits his ideology. (Maybe I was a starry-eyed idealist myself when I voted for him as an MP many years ago.)

There is also the environmental angle -- all of that plastic being used and thrown out or recycled: One thing that I remember quite clearly from my days in University is that when you pull a water fountain out of a wall and carry it into class with you, it doesn't work anymore. It needs to be attached to the wall in order to function properly. Therefore, it is very likely that students will continue to purchase bottled beverages from vending machines, even though water is no longer an option. They will simply have to choose from other alternatives like Iced Tea, Pepsi or Mountain Dew. Those atrocious plastic bottles will still end up in the recylcing bins -- the only difference being that the students throwing them in there will be fatter and have worse teeth than before.

Could this be another example of well-intentioned but heavy-handed policy having unexpected negative consequences? It is, if nothing else, a reminder of why it's a good thing that Axworthy is no longer in politics.

links: fp sun


Graham said...

Can I ask you a question?

I'll state first that I am in favour of this ban.

I realize that yes, there is the case for personal choice. I also realize that yes, pop bottles are also plastic and we aren't banning those.

But what I don't get is this notion that you can't take water with you unless it's in a plastic disposable bottle. Are people so worried about personal freedoms to spend 1.50 on a bottle of Dasani water just so they can take it to class with them that they completely forget about the financial angle of it? A tin water bottle from MEC costs you 10 bucks, which equates to about 8 Dasani bottles, and you can fill it an unlimited amount of times for free.

So my question is, if the argument is against portability what's wrong with encouraging people to go to a reuseable water bottle?

To me this is no different than encouraging people to buy the "green" Superstore bags for a buck instead of paying 3 cents everytime you want a useless plastic bag.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with the ban in that bottled water is both a major scam and detrimental to the public good.

It costs me a lot less per liter for tap water than bottled water and the tap water is 100% tested and safe. The bottled water marketing exists by claiming (falsely) that it is cleaner and more sanitary than public water.

In turn, having create this false perception, the bottled water industry is inadvertently undermining our trust in and support for public water sources.

cherenkov said...

I would be happy to answer your question, Graham:

I doubt that people buy bottled water to make a statement about personal freedom, but simply because of convenience. People certainly could bring their own water in their own bottles, and I do think that this should be encouraged, but there are all kinds of reason why it might not happen. Some people may forget their Nalgene bottles at home or in their gym bag, some may not be organized enough to pack their own bottle at 8:00 in the morning, and some may simply prefer the convenience of buying from a machine. Some may prefer the taste of bottled water. It doesn't really matter. The point is that, if you find yourself at University without a water bottle and you want to bring a drink into class or on the bus or whatever, water is no longer an option. But to answer your question: nothing is wrong with encouraging people to use a reusable bottle. I think that's great. Encouraging and forcing to two very different things.

DonSt.: it is a little bit scammy, but that's not a reason to ban it either. Banning something because you think people are not smart/wise/educated enough to make their own informed choice is very patronizing. A better option would be to find ways to inform people of the pros of tap water and cons of bottled water.

Anonymous said...

What happened to the days of drinking from a public water fountain? Do they still put these in schools and other public instiutations when they build?

Graham said...

Well I can agree with you on that. I should have said that I was in favour of the ban in principle.

Plastic bottles for water is a waste. Plastic bottles regardless of the product is a waste. You need to use an energy resource, oil, to make then and despite people saying you can recycle them, a significant number of people don't.

It would mean MUCH more if everybody conciously did not buy bottled water. Banning anything gets people on the defensive side of things.

I just don't understand what's so hard about getting your own water bottle. I sure as hell are not going to buy a bottle of water for 1.50 or 2 bucks when it is something I require to live. I have several water bottles and always have at least one in the fridge. Forgetting to take one is like forgetting to take your lunch.

When I see people buying a bottle of water it reminds me of a scene in Spaceballs where Mel Brooks is sneaking a can of fresh air.

I also agree with Donstreet, it does indeed encourage public distrust in public water. But I can't blame them...they put all kinds of chemicles in it and it lacks that crisp reverse osmosis taste.

Ultimately the biggest reasons I refuse to buy bottled water at all costs is that brands like Dasani, pump their water out of the ground from places like India where the native population barely has clean water to drink themselves. Or any other company who ships their water thousands of miles as if to say the water I've been drinking isn't good enough.

And again, the economics of it add up. Eventually a simple Brita filter or full-out reverse osmosis filter like I have pays for itself over and over.

I guess people think with the "convenience" side of their brain and not the thinking side.

NDP Convert said...

If I want to buy water , nothing will stop me.

cherenkov said...

Katherine: yes, but they only work when they're attached to the wall.

Graham: India? I thought that most of it came from a tap somewhere in New Jersey. In any case, you seem to be far more organized than myself and probably most other people, although I tend not to drink bottled water unless I'm on a road trip and already had my RDA of Tim Hortons.

NDP: Oh I could stop you. I just choose not to.

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