Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No More Bottled Water in T.O.; Pay 5 Cents for a Bag

While this is a technology blog by definition, I couldn't help but discuss the City Council's recent decisions to ban bottled water in Toronto, and to charge grocery shoppers $0.05 for plastic shopping bags. Are these good steps toward a better, more environmentally-friendly society?

Let's look at the water issue first. Before you bottled water-aholics go nuts, you will still be able to buy bottled water by the case or individually at grocery stores and some other locations. Where you won't be able to purchase it is in city facilities. This mean concession stands, vending machines, school cafeterias, subway shops, convention centres, etc.: essentially any spot owned by the city. It'll take 3 years for the ban to come into full effect as the city works to ensure that tap water is available wherever the ability to buy bottled water is removed.

"Bottled water's 15-minutes are up," says Joe Cressy, Campaigns Co-ordinator for the Polaris Institute. "The marketing scam is out of the closet, and it's time to go back to the tap."

I'll be the first to admit that I buy bottled water all the time. Will taking it out of city facilities help, though? People that go to the gym need something to hold their water; but they could just re-use their own bottle, filled up with tap water. True, a group gathering for a sales meeting in a convention centre don't want to raise their hands and head out to take a drink from the fountain whenever they're thirsty either. But why not have a jug of tap water and glasses/cups available to attendees? Ironically enough, a Toronto Star report cites one Councilor as stating that a water ban in theatres like the Sony Centre could force workers to give away water in plastic cups. How is that helping the environment if we're still using plastic?

(As an aside, if you're a fan of the flavoured bottle water concoctions like I am, these are not included with the ban. "Toronto City Staff defined bottled water as water that is bottled and re-sold without added flavouring," Cressy tells me. "Though," he adds, "we are continuing to liaise with the city to strengthen this definition to include flavoured water."

Now, what about the bags? Grocery stores like Price Chopper have been charging a nickel per bag for some time now. But we'll see this in every store starting June 1, 2009. Is this fair? The city calls plastic bags "throwaway" items. I don't know about you, but I often save the bags and re-use them for other purposes: transporting stuff from one place to another, accumulating garbage if I've run out of dedicated garbage bags, etc. If I use one to bring something to work, for instance, I'll often stuff the bag into a drawer in our office kitchen where someone else might pick it up one day and use it once again for another purpose. I don't see plastic bags as throwaway at all! In fact, I probably use them more than I'd use a cloth bag! So why am I paying for the supposed actions of others?

On the other side of the fence, though, an extra 50-cents per shopping trip (assuming you'd use about 10 bags) isn't a major concern. And if it will help the environment in any way, so be it. The LCBO has already gotten rid of all plastic bags, only offering free paper bags, or cloth bags for $0.05 each. It's inconvenient when I have to lug a couple bottles of wine held to my chest instead of hanging from my fingers in plastic. But in the grand scheme of things, it's not a huge deal.

BUT: the main concern is where will that money go?

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1 comment:

Joseph Nucara said...

Firstly, it seems ironic that the city will allow the sale of beverage in a bottle so long as it is laden with enough chemicals, artificial sweeteners and carcinogens so as to allow it not to be defined as "bottled water". Secondly, although it is true that most bottled water is no better than tap water, some bottled water is definitely MUCH MUCH better, purer and healthier. As responsible consumers, we must do our homework while asking ourselves one simple question: Will taxpayers and municipalities EVER invest the kind money required to make tap water RISK-FREE for drinking when 99.8% of tap water is not used for drinking?