San Francisco is making waves.
Last week the city’s board of supervisors approved a measure that would ban the sale of bottled water at events held on city property. Supervisor David Chiu, who authored the legislation, noted dryly “not long ago, our world was not addicted to plastic water bottles . . . Before (the 1990s), for centuries, everybody managed to stay hydrated.”
To be fair, (and to have some Massachusetts pride), it is worth mentioning that Concord had an earlier bottled water ban than San Francisco. There is also a growing movement at universities and colleges for these bans, and some national parks are also banning the bottle.
I salute Mr. Chiu and the other proponents of these measures nationwide. Having spent the last few weeks in Bali, the evidence of the increase in use of these bottles in the form of the empties strewn all over the beaches and landscape was very disheartening.
And while I would like to believe that this is a third-world problem, the truth is that the United States is the number one consumer of bottled water. The average American drinks 167 bottles of water per year, claiming more consumption of bottled water than milk or even (surprising in my household) beer.
This translates into more than 50 billion plastic water bottles annually used in America and, of those, only 23 per cent are recycled. However, beyond the problem of trash, the production of this product is an incredible drain on very valuable resources.
It takes approximately 17 million barrels of oil per year to quench American’s thirst for this particular product. That amount of oil could fuel 1.3 million vehicles or power 190,000 homes. And to make matters worse, that amount of oil used doesn’t include the fuel needed to transport the bottles of water to a store near you.
Those resources may be water under the bridge, but with the global consumption of bottled water increasing by 10 per cent per year, our problems could go deeper than the nearest aquifer.
Perhaps even more disconcerting about the popularity of bottled water is the fact that we have been duped into buying something that is freely available. Consider the cost and origin of bottled water.
The largest two purveyors of bottled water, with a 25 per cent market share, are using municipal water sources. Further estimates suggest that at least half of bottled water comes from a community tap. But the markup is steep: one analysis notes that bottled water is 560 times more expensive than tap water.
And interestingly, the quality of tap water is arguably better than bottled. Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The EPA tests for E. Coli and has more frequent bacteria testing and mandated reporting, while the FDA falls short in some of these measures.
On the Vineyard, we are blessed with phenomenal drinking water of a quality that can’t be beat. While I know that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink, I hope that Islanders will go to the source — our own source — to quench their thirst.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.