“So pure we promise nothing.”
That’s the tagline for Pepsi’s Aquafina bottled water.
It’s supposed to evoke images of pristine, crystalline springs.
But KAIROS, a Canadian affiliation of religious organizations working together on social justice issues, is championing an alternative reading.
“There’s really no proof that bottled water is or isn’t any healthier than tap water in most systems,” said its campaign co-ordinator Sara Stratton.
“Bottled water is not regulated. Generally, it’s as safe as tap water.
“And in many cases it is tap water.”
Although there are federal drinking water guidelines, not everyone meets them, said Yukon Spring owner Paul Sheridan.
“Those of us who are conscientious, we exceed them,” he said.
“But as far as I’m concerned, there’s not an adequate amount of monitoring.”
Bottling plants are inspected once every three to six years. And, often, tap water regulations are stricter than those governing bottled water, according to the KAIROS website.
But bottled water purity is only a small part of the problem.
During its general council in August, the United Church of Canada asked its members to avoid bottled water.
“We want to ensure that public-sourced water remains a priority for everyone and that support for public water is not undermined over the long-term with a switch to bottled water,” said its program co-ordinator David Hallman.
In other words, switching to bottled water gets municipal water systems off the hook.
“It’s important to keep tap water as the primary source of water because not everybody can afford to buy bottled water,” said Hallman.
“We don’t want tap water infrastructure to deteriorate and then poor people not get access to good clean water, because they can’t afford to buy bottled water.”
Hallman and Stratton live in Toronto. And both drink the tap water there.
“It’s great; it’s good water,” said Hallman.
Although tap water is usually very high quality, there are some cases where municipal systems have failed people, added Stratton.
“And no one is saying that in those situations people shouldn’t be drinking bottled water; we’re saying we need to fix those situations as well — it’s is not an acceptable alternative.”
Bottled water is the face of water commodification in Canada, she said.
“And there’s a growing mindset that says its OK for people to have to pay for water.”
The bottled water industry is growing an average of 15 per cent per annum, said Sheridan.
And that’s because people don’t trust the municipal supplies, he said.
“In a community where you have a functioning, safe water system, there’s the sense that the bottle of water I buy at the corner store is somehow superior to the water I get out of my tap,” said Stratton.
“And we know it’s not superior — in some cases it’s identical.”
Many bottling companies, using municipal sources, pay the same rate to access the water as municipal citizens, she said.
“Then they turn around and sell it at thousands and thousands of dollars profit.”
Bottled water is between 240 and 10,000 times more expensive than tap water, according to US Natural Resources Defence Council estimates.
And Danone and Nestle pay little or nothing for the water they take from groundwater streams and aquifers, it states.
“We don’t want to see private companies, that naturally have to build a profit into their pricing, take over responsibility for what should be a public responsibility,” said Hallman.
In addition, plastic water bottles are jamming landfills all over the world, said Stratton.
“And we want to get people to think about the impact this is having.”
Plastic packaging is becoming the fastest-growing form of municipal solid waste in the US and Canada, according to the KAIROS website.
These containers release high levels of toxic chemicals into the air and water when they’re manufactured, and again when they’re burned and buried.
By educating the public, KAIROS and the United Church hope to raise awareness about who gets access to water, for what and why.
“I agree water’s becoming a commodity, said Sheridan.
“But it’s only because of public demand — if there wasn’t a demand out there, then it wouldn’t be.”