Do you trust the water that comes out of your tap?
Almost a third of Canadians don’t according to a 2006 Statistics Canada survey. T Safe and clean water is a right according to United Nations but even in a developed country like Canada over 11 million people across the country choose bottled water over tap.
Two Quebec institutions are trying to change that.
In early October, Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec became the ninth university in Canada and the first in Quebec to ban the sale of single use water bottles.
“I think everyone sees the point of this,” said Bishops’ Director of University Advancement David McBride, “for the university there is obviously a loss of revenue but we felt it was a loss that we could live with to do the right thing and to do the right thing for the environment was to stop the sale of water bottles.”
Bishops’ is a small university with only 2000 full-time undergraduate students but over 16500 water bottle sales in an academic year. They are retrofitting all of the water fountains on campus to accommodate re-useable water bottle fill-ups and working with their food and beverage provider Sohexo to make the campus a bottle-free environment.
“On a campus of our size it’s a manageable thing to do but it may not be a feasible on a campus the size of McGill,” said McBride.
With a over 45000 students enrolled for the 2009-2010 year, Concordia University in downtown Montreal is having a tougher time in their efforts to ban single-use bottles. Concordia is a good litmus test for the fight to ban the bottle because despite strong student activism, the sheer size of the student body provides valuable revenue for the university and their provider, Pepsi, in bottle sales. Around 5000 single-use bottles are sold everyday on campus.
Tapthirst is a student group trying to push for a ban at Concordia. Laura Beach, co-founder of the group, explains that they are doubling their efforts to raise awareness for their cause because of upcoming negotiations between the university and Pepsi.
“At Concordia, we’re in a really unique situation where we’ve had Pepsi on campus for almost thirteen years and they’ve been operating under an exclusivity contract and that contract is ending in December,” she says. So far Tapthirst has been making headway by gaining support for various student organizations but is waiting for the negotiation process to begin.
Both Sodexo and Pepsi were unavailable for comment concerning bans at their respective universities.
Is banning to way to go or is an extreme measure for a perceived problem? In 2008 a similar ban proposed by the government of Ontario was stuck down because they could not ensure clean water to everyone in the province. According to the Instuit National de Sante Publique there were 1264 boil-water advisories Quebec between 2002 and 2004.
One solution being proposed by among others Montreal city councillor Alan DeSousa might turn this garbage into gold. A bottle deposit system for not only water bottles but also wine and spirit bottles might bring some financial incentive to returning the recyclables.
DeSousa is part of the team that is putting forward a single-use bottle ban for all city of Montreal buildings. The vote by city council will take place at the end of October as a part of Montreal’s sustainability plan released October 13. This is an indicator that the officials of the city of Montreal are confident of the water quality on the island. “We have always favoured using city water,” DeSousa said emphasizing that they trust the infrastructure and water system.
DeSousa says that the more feasible way to deal with the amount of water bottles in the province is for the provincial government to start a bottle-return system.
“Someone might see water bottles in the trash and pick it out and take them back to the depanneur and get some money,” he said, “so by having that deposit based system they would be returned, reused and as a result not find itself accumulating in landfills where it takes a long time for these water bottles to break down.”
While it seems like these two measures have improved Quebec’s bottle situation the fact is that the province that is seen as the most progressive is actually behind.
Out of the ten provinces and three territories in Canada only three do not have a water bottle deposit program. It sounds good until you realize that the problem is, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba make up over 55% of Canada’s population.
Does the deposit system work? Take for example Metro grocery stores’ decision to charge five cents for plastic bags in 2009. One month later the demand for re-useable bags increased fivefold and the store was using 70% less of the single-use bags. This evidence shows that shoppers can change their habits and that they are looking to save money on the unnecessary.