London, Ont., to ban bottled water on city premises despite beverage industry protests

City councillors in London, Ont., have voted to ban the sale of bottled water on city premises despite protests from the beverage industry.

City councillors in London, Ont., have voted to ban the sale of bottled water on city premises despite protests from the beverage industry.

The 15-3 vote late Monday came after heated debate in the municipality on the role of bottled water at city facilities such as city-owned buildings, arenas and community centres. Municipal officials have maintained that tap water costs about an eighth of a cent per litre while bottled water can range anywhere from 30 cents to $4 a bottle.

Environmentalists have said they are concerned by the amount of energy it takes to transport the bottles, as well as the waste produced by them, particularly when most areas of Canada have safe water supplies.

The Canadian Bottled Water Association, which represents about 100 bottlers across the country, said Tuesday it was disappointed with London's decision.

One of the city's primary goals is to reduce the amount of plastic that goes into landfills, said association spokeswoman Elizabeth Griswold, adding "I don't think that'll be the result of the vote."

Two surveys have indicated that if bottled water is not made available to people, they will choose to buy other bottled beverages over tap water, she said.

"So they'll have the same amount of plastic to recycle," Griswold said. 

The Nestlé solution

Nestlé Waters Canada, the company behind such bottled water brand names as Perrier, Vittel and Montclair, said in an Aug. 11 news release that it also was opposed to the ban because it wouldn't do enough to curb waste or reduce the public's preference for bottled water over tap water.

"In an independent survey conducted in May 2008 by Probe Research Inc., Canadians said they are not choosing bottled water over municipal tap water," said Gail Cosman, president of Nestlé Waters Canada in the release.

"What should be of particular concern to the City of London is that the Probe study also indicated that about 60 per cent of bottled water drinkers said they will revert to less healthy alternatives found in plastic beverage containers if bottled water isn't available."

Instead of a ban on plastic bottled water, Nestlé proposed a pilot recycling project in London that would collect plastic containers in public spaces such as parks, restaurants and city streets.

Refreshments Canada, the national trade association that represents 30 beverage brands, said in a news release Tuesday that the city's decision will be a step backwards for recycling.

"The city had an opportunity to expand recycling outside the home … but instead it ignored the facts and decided to target a healthy consumer choice," said Justin Sherwood, president of Refreshments Canada. "This is a move that will cost taxpayers more and do less for the environment."

While water bottles can be recycled, the process consumes a great amount of energy, and many bottles end up being thrown out, says William Rees, sustainability planning professor at the University of British Columbia.

He says some major bottled water producers actually use municipal water. Dasani brand bottled water puts Brampton's municipal water through a filtration system before putting it on store shelves as its own product.

London, which will phase in the ban over the next several months only at buildings with water fountains, is one of the first cities in Canada to ban bottled water. Other cities in Ontario considering restricting the sale of bottled water on school premises include Kitchener, Ottawa and Toronto.

Vancouver has also started looking into how to implement a bottled water ban at its city-owned facilities.

Sales of bottled water in Canada including imported bottled water reached 2.16 billion litres in 2006, up 13 per cent from 1.91 billion litres in 2005, Griswold said, citing statistics from the Beverage Marketing Corp.

More water woes

Concerns over retailing haven't been the only controversial aspect of bottled water to be raised in Ontario over the past year.

In April, Environment Canada gave Nestlé the green light to take 1.3 billion litres of groundwater a year from an area near Guelph for only the cost of a $3,000 application fee.

The approval meant the company's Guelph plant would not need to reduce its extraction quota of 3.6 million litres a day despite calls from Guelph Ministry of Natural Resources officials to curb water extraction from the Mill Creek sub-watershed in Aberfoyle, reported the Guelph Mercury newspaper.

Starting next year, Ontario will begin charging bottled water companies $3.71 per million litres of water extracted from the province's lakes, rivers and streams as a conservation fee, Premier Dalton McGuinty has since said. The charge should be considered a "floor" price, he said.

With files from the Canadian Press