By Dominika Sekula, EPt
Marsha Smith, EPt
Research Intern, Coastal Ecosystems
United Nations University - Institute for Water, Environment and Health
When it comes to making sustainable consumer choices for drinking water, for once, the answer is simple. The choice is tap water!
This may not be a simple answer everywhere in the world, but in Canada, tap water is an affordable option that has passed stringent tests for quality and compliance to Canada’s Safe Drinking Water Act. More often than not, this is the same water that is packaged and sold to us in bottles.
Many establishments, such as schools, universities, and municipal governments are adopting sustainable solutions for drinking water. Choosing to move away from using single-serve, plastic water bottles can be a good move for both the environment and their budgets. Although a case of small, single-use plastic water bottles can cost as little as two dollars, it can’t beat the price of municipal tap water, which in the example of Toronto, costs only $2.71 for 1000 L. Who can argue with that value?
Many organizations have gone this route to save on internal costs and align their actions with their sustainability objectives. An increasing number of organizations have also banned the use and sale of single serve water bottles in their operations, helping them meet their waste diversion goals.
Although the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic that comprises most water bottles is recyclable, these bottles are still a very pervasive type of litter. This is because they are a convenience when away from home, where unfortunately, there is limited access to recycling or waste receptacles. Progressive organizations that track the waste they produce will be troubled to learn that these PET plastic bottles can only be recycled once and tend to use virgin petroleum in their manufacture.
Despite all of these factors, the move to bottle-less water should not be rushed. Organizations must be prepared to ensure that users have easy access to this basic human need. Sometimes it is as simple as checking that there are an adequate number of water fountains at a facility.
If additional infrastructure is needed, then the organization responsible needs to secure appropriate funding and build this into their budget. It is also important to notify the facility users of this upcoming change so that they can adjust their routines, such as ensuring that they either start or continue to carry reusable bottles.
Another option for providing free access to water is to have local businesses act as refilling stations. For example, the University of Toronto has a policy that any vendor on campus must provide drinking water free-of-charge when requested. In contrast, municipalities have developed networks of businesses that support the idea of “bottle-less” water and will provide this free service upon request.
In response, new smartphone apps have emerged to aid in locating such businesses. Quench
is one such mapping app that services the Greater Toronto Area, while Blue W
is another that provides a national network of water bottle refilling stations. Both of these apps are free.
For organizations that sell bottled water on their premises, such as schools or community centres, it is important to consider your current contract with vendors and build that into your timeframe of switching to tap water. In addition, municipalities must be prepared to engage any of their stakeholders who are closely tied to the bottling industry, such as bottling plants or beverage associations who lobby on their behalf.
The key to success is to form a strategy to navigate through this transition process, and keep the progression slow, easily adaptable and transparent to all.
About the Authors
Dominika Sekula (EPt) is an environmental professional in the pharmaceutical sector who participates in the sustainability initiatives of her municipality.
Marsha Smith (EPt) is an environmental professional working in environmental policy and education. She is currently conducting research with the United Nations University - Institute for Water, Environment and Health.