From San Francisco to New York to Paris, city governments, high-class restaurants, schools, and religious groups are ditching bottled water in favor of what comes out of the faucet. With people no longer content to pay 1,000 times as much for bottled water, a product no better than water from the tap, a backlash against bottled water is growing.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which represents some 1,100 American cities, discussed at its June 2007 meeting the irony of purchasing bottled water for city employees and for city functions while at the same time touting the quality of municipal water. The group passed a resolution sponsored by Mayors Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City, and R. T. Rybak of Minneapolis that called for the examination of bottled water's environmental impact. The resolution noted that with $43 billion a year going to provide clean drinking water in cities across the country, "the United States' municipal water systems are among the finest in the world."
While the Mayors Conference fell short of moving to stop taxpayer money from filling the coffers of water bottlers, a growing number of cities are heading in that direction. Los Angeles, which has restricted the purchase of bottled water with city funds since 1987, now has more company. By the end of 2007, purchasing bottled water will be off-limits for San Francisco's departments and agencies, saving a half-million dollars each year and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. St. Louis is poised to ban bottled water purchases for city employees in early 2008. At the launch of Corporate Accountability International's "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign in October, Mayor Anderson of Salt Lake City described the "total absurdity and irresponsibility, both economic and environmental, of purchasing and using bottled water when we have perfectly good and safe municipal sources of tap water." He urged city government departments and restaurants to stop buying bottled water. In November, the city council of Chicago, beleaguered by swelling landfills and a stretched budget, placed a landmark tax of 5% on every bottle of water sold in the city in order to discourage consumption. That same month, Illinois state agencies were banned from purchasing bottled water with government funds. With 86 percent of used water bottles in the United States ending up as garbage or litter instead of being recycled, switching from the bottle to the tap helps to alleviate the trash burden. New York City is urging residents to drink tap water, which is naturally filtered in the protected Catskill forest region. In Kentucky, the Louisville water utility hands out free bottles for residents to fill with "Pure Tap." Dozens of other local governments are talking up tap water and are looking into banning the bottle. (See www.earthpolicy.org for a list and additional data.)