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Lynne Plambeck: Putting a cap on bottled water

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: July 7, 2010 3:31 p.m.
Updated: July 8, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Environmental problems associated with bottled water have been in the spotlight for many years.

In February 2006, National Geographic published an article about health issues surrounding bottled water and discussing problems with plastic trash generated from this product.

The article stated that worldwide some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year, according to EPI.

The plastic most commonly used is polyethylene terepthalate (PET), which is derived from crude oil. Making bottles to meet Americans’ demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 U.S. cars for a year. 

About 86 percent of plastic water bottles in the U.S. become garbage or litter, according to the Container Recycling Institute in Washington, D.C. Plastic debris in the environment can take between 400 and 1,000 years to degrade.

So Castaic Lake Water Agency’s recent staff recommendation to switch to biodegradable water bottles for charity event giveaways is a start in the right direction. At a time when all of us see the horror of the BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, anything that will move us away from plastics or other uses of oil is welcomed.  The biodegradable bottles made from corn will also reportedly only take 75-100 years to deteriorate in a landfill, but that is still a darn long time.

According to the water agency’s staff report, their new supplier claims that its bottles will biodegrade in one to five years. Don’t forget and leave it in your cupboard too long. You may have a mess on your hands.

Here are some questions for the water agency and the public:

Why is Castaic Lake Water Agency giving away bottled water at all? Does it want to support the myth that bottled water is healthier than tap water? Is this a policy statement that our public water agency should be promoting, i.e., that it’s safer to drink water from a bottle than the water they themselves provide for our taps? After all, everyone in Santa Clarita is drinking their water from the tap or a park or school drinking fountain.

Just exactly what water is in all these bottles labeled ‘Castaic Lake Water Agency’?  There is no labeling on the water bottle to indicate the source.

Is the water agency trucking their own water down to a bottling plant (and wasting more oil on transportation) to have it bottled by Niagara or some other company? Or is it Niagara water with a water-agency label on it?

Why is the water agency spending some $60,000 a year of public money to give away bottled water, thus encouraging this environmentally damaging practice — At the same time, they are raising everyone’s water rates? Shouldn’t CLWA be looking to cut costs, instead of raising water rates?

It’s great that the water agency wants to support community groups. But why not support them in a more economically and environmentally sensitive fashion? With most people aware of the health, transportation and trash problems generated by plastic bottles, why not use community giveaways as a teaching tool to encourage the move away from bottled water?

Instead, the water agency could provide large containers with the agency name on them, if a water giveaway is the only way to go. Then encourage the public to bring their own water containers. It is a healthier solution, one that is gaining popularity from sports circles to beach resorts and it will save the ratepayer some money.

For more on the bottled-water conundrum, I suggest you view Annie Leonard’s short clip “The Story of Bottled Water” online at www.storyofstuff.org/bottledwater

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.

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