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Water Today Title November 25, 2017

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Updated 1/15/14
Bottled Water

Water – A bottled business. . .

by Matt Armstrong & Merylee Sevilla

Do you prefer bottled over tap? Do you know where your water is coming from? Where it’s bottled? Here in Canada you can find 65 bottling plants, that bottle one of the 70 brands sold in Canada. According to a 2009 Statistics Canada report, 2.29 billion liters of water/year was produced and in Ontario alone there are 16 water bottling plants. The total allowable takings for all of the water bottling facilities in Canada amounts to 5,266,040,430 L/year.

Water. From a young age we are taught to consume anywhere from 8-10 glasses of water. More often than not, it is also seen as a resource that is taken for granted, we don’t expect it to ever disappear or run dry. In parts of Canada, extraction of this natural resource does not cost a cent, whereas other parts of the country are required to pay per million of liters. In Hope, British Columbia, Switzerland based and the world’s largest food company, Nestle, extracts anywhere up to 265 million L of fresh water, and the cost[1]? Nothing. 1,500 miles away, Ontario charges a mere $3.71/million L of water .

Any industrial or commercial user of water in Ontario who withdraws in excess of 50,000 L/day from a lake, stream, river or surface water source must apply for a “Permit to Take Water,” O.Reg 387/04. The purpose of the permit to take water is to ensure that water conservation measures are being followed and to allow for annual monitoring and reporting of water withdrawals. Also set forth by this permit is the charge of $3.71 for every million litres of water withdrawn. The annual charge for water use is collected by the Ontario Ministry of Environment and subsequently applied to “cover a portion of the province’s costs for water quantity management activities and programs, such as preparing water budgets, monitoring, and controlling takings and their impacts,” (Water Charges, Ministry of Environment). A permit to take water can remain in effect for up to 10 years and has a one-time fee of either $750 or $3,000, determined by the environmental impact of a requested facility.

B.C., on the other hand, is the only province in Canada that does not currently regulate groundwater use. Under current laws, groundwater can be used without government authorization and no annual fees apply, even to large-scale users. The province's proposed Water Sustainablity Act intends to correct this situation. Over the past months, public feedback was welcome and over 3,200 submissions wee received. The B.C. government is preparing a final draft of the new legislation, to be introduced into the B.C. legislature in spring 2014.

At the municipal level, the standard used for water withdrawals in Dawson Creek BC where water is scarce, might be a more sustainable model provinces should look at. The municipality charges $4.50 for every cubic meter of water taken from its municipal water supply. In other words, while Ontario charges $3.71 per million litres of water Dawson creek would charge $4,500.

While Canada has 20% of the world's fresh water reserve and municipalities across the country spend hundreds of thousand upgrading their water infrastructure, the Canadian bottled water industry serves mostly the domestic market.[2]. Within a year, Canadian exports of bottled water decreased by over 85% (2010 – 468.9 L to 2011 – 109.8 L)[3]. Though this is a significant decrease, the Canadian bottled water market has been less dependent on the US market (61.3%) and has become more open to other foreign markets such as Japan (25.3%) and Taiwan (8.4%). In turn, Canada also became a market for imported water with France being the number one supplier followed by Italy.

According to Agriculture Canada, "exports, which had been in Canada's favour up to 2006, have been surpassed by imports since 2007 when Canada's bottled water global trade deficit was valued at -$17.7 million". The industry however expects growth over the next five years as consumers become more concerned about the quality of their tap water.

The expanded use of bottled water has many implications. One, it turns a resource that is meant to be “free” to the public into a commodity; a 375 mL bottled water will cost you anywhere from $1.19 upwards. The second implication is the environment, more specifically plastic pollution. In 2007, BC alone consumed 478 million polyethylene tetephtalate (PET) bottles of water; although, BC is one of six provinces that offer deposit returns on bottles, over in Ontario, Torontonians consumed over 100 million bottles of water, 35% of which were not recycled. This is a staggering number as it takes upwards of 700 years for plastic to decompose. The rate of bottled water consumption in Canada alone and the lack of recycling initiatives, results in landfills housing hundreds and millions of water bottles yearly.

Not only is the water bottle industry largely contributing to plastic pollution, it also has as significant impact on greenhouse gases and carbon footprint. With Canada bottling and distributing water on a domestic and international level, every shipment has impact on the environment. From the modes of transportation to the manufacturing of the bottles themselves, the environment becomes an unwilling victim of the bottled water industry and is essentially at its mercy.

To counter the negative and alarming impact of bottled water on the environment, cities across Canada are enforcing bans on bottled water. Environmental Activist and Canadian, David Suzuki, recently told CBC he insists on drinking tap water[4] as opposed to bottle. The difference between tap and bottled? A significant difference between the two is the cost. Approximately 90% of the price of bottled water is marked up to cover the cost of packaging, transporting and marketing. Take away the extravagant cost of packaging and marketing and you have tap water, freely accessible and undervalued.

It comes down to this. Although the industry has a significant and often irreversible impact on the environment, it however provides millions of dollars to the Canadian economy especially where employment is concerned. From 2005-2007, the industry saw an increase in employment at a time when unemployment rates were increasing.

[1] http://o.canada.com/news/nestle-bottled-water-cost/
[2] http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/industry-markets-and-trade/statistics-and-market-information/by-product-sector/processed-food-and-beverages/the-canadian-bottled-water-industry/?id=1171644581795
[3] Numbers in millions
[4] http://www.cbc.ca/news/bottled-water-popular-beverage-losing-its-appeal-1.821453 Background Source: The Toxic Footprint of PET-Bottled Water pdf
http://www.cbwa.ca/bottle-water-facts/myths-a-facts http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2011/02/the-worlds-water-is-being- privatized/

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