The Newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Chapter
September - October 2007
San Francisco says no to bottled water
On June 22 San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city government to stop purchasing bottled water for its employees. The mayor cited the superior quality of San Francisco's tap water and bottled water's harmful impact on our environment as grounds for his order.
The order, which will save the city about $500,000 per year, comes on the heels of several Bay Area restaurants announcing that they will stop serving bottled water. These restaurants include Chez Panisse (Berkeley), Incanto (San Francisco), Poggio (Sausalito), and Nopa (San Francisco).
San Franciscans have some of the best tap water in the country. San Francisco's water comes from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park. Hetch Hetchy's water is so pure that it doesn't require treatment at the reservoir. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission performs over 100,000 tests per year on its water to ensure that it meets or exceeds water-quality standards.
In general, bottled water is no cleaner, or safer, or healthier than tap water. In fact, the federal Environmental Protection Agency requires far more rigorous and frequent safety testing and monitoring of municipal drinking water. The Food and Drug Administration, which has less than one full-time employee assigned to oversee bottled water, does not require bottled water to meet the EPA's standards for tap water.
Bottled water takes a significant toll on our environment. Oil is required to make, move, and transport millions of plastic bottles, all of which contribute to global warming. Worldwide bottling of water uses about 2.7 million tons of plastic each year. And about 86% of empty plastic water bottles in the United States land in the garbage instead of being recycled. Once the bottles are filled, more oil is used to transport them, sometimes long distances.
Yet the national bottled water market is valued at around $11 billion per year with California contributing about 23% of the total. Collectively, consumers spend hundreds or thousands of dollars more per gallon for water in a plastic bottle than they would for the H2O flowing from their taps. Advertising campaigns have succeeded at convincing many consumers that bottled water is better than tap water. This phenomenon has undermined public confidence in tap water at a time when municipalities need to make large investments in their aging water infrastructure.
Bottled water threatens to undermine water as a public trust. Water belongs to all of us, and access to safe and affordable drinking water is a human right. When consumers buy bottled water like any other commodity, they may become less resistant to the privatization of their water systems and lose sight of watershed protection.
San Francisco deserves applause for taking back its tap water.
Elsewhere in northern California, the Sierra Club is helping to fight efforts by Nestlé to build a bottling plant in McCloud, at the foot of Mount Shasta. Shasta. Danone and Crystal Geyser bottling plants were build in the early 2000s before complacent Siskiyou County residents became aware of the global-warming and water-resource impacts revealed in the 2007 environmental review of the proposed Nestlé plant in McCloud, described at www.motherlode.sierraclub.org
Many consumers who like the convenience of portable bottles use a reusable container such as a stainless steel bottle. Consumers who have problems with the taste of their tap water often use filters. An appropriate filter can also help if you live in a district with lower-quality water. A reverse-osmosis filter that removes nitrates may be expensive, but probably not more so than buying bottled water.
If you live in San Francisco and have plumbing fixtures which release lead into the water, the city's Public Utilities Commission will provide a lead-free faucet for $10.
To learn more about bottled water, including "Take Back the Tap: Why Choosing Tap Water over Bottled Water is Better for Your Health, Your Pocketbook, and the Environment" and "Guide to Home Tap Water Filtration", visit www.foodandwaterwatch.org and type "take-back" in the "Search" box.
Also go to www.sierraclub.org and type "bottled water" in the "Search" box.
© 2007 San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler
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