Sunday, September 7, 2008

Background - Midland's Water Bottle By-Law

Background Information Prepared for Council Regarding

Disposable Plastic Water Bottles By-law


This information has been prepared by Councillor McKay as background to the motion regarding the banning of plastic water bottles. This is not a staff report. The information presented here is generally available on the internet and other public sources. Sources are quoted where available. The reader should investigate other sources of information.

Basic Premise

The rationale behind the proposed by-law is this:
1. Midland Council has expressed its interest in both reducing waste and becoming a sustainable community
2. The plastic water bottle is a convenience item that usually ends up in landfill, harms the environment and charges a high price for a commodity for which the taxpayer has already paid
3. Midland Council can demonstrate its commitment to making Midland a sustainable community and help reduce waste by passing the By-law

What Does the By-Law Say

The proposed wording for the By-law is:

1. Ban the sale of disposable plastic water bottles in Town facilities, including office buildings and arenas, where access to Town water is available

2. Where feasible implement public water fountains in Town facilities.

The proposed By-law is not intended to cover:
- Water bottles brought to Town facilities by staff, residents or visitors
- Other liquids sold in disposable plastic containers
- Disposable water bottles sold at outdoor events held on Town property
- Water bottles sold or used outside of Town facilities.
So family picnics with disposable water bottles can still go ahead.

Why Do We Need to Do Anything?

Midland has recently committed resources to find out how it can be become a sustainable community. Midland is also aware of prospective legislation requiring municipalities to adopt sustainable practices affecting both water and energy.

For Midland to become a sustainable community it must address how much waste it generates, and how it uses energy and water. The disposable plastic water bottle presents a “case-in-point” of how we can turn our good sustainability intentions to resolving one small problem.

The plastic disposable water bottle has been identified as one of the most common items of litter in the world. The Canadian Plastics Industry Association says in their 2004 report that in Ontario about 65% of disposable water bottles (some 33,000 tons) ended up in landfill. More recent studies put that number anywhere from 80% to 40%. Bottom line – a lot of these bottles end up in the dump.

Each water bottle we manufacture, ship and, yes, recycle uses a quarter of a bottle worth of oil. Source: Pacific Institute

The process of making one water bottle uses another two bottles of water. Source: Pacific Institute

Stopping the sale of water bottles will not in itself make Midland a sustainable community. But by failing to pass this By-Law we send the message that while we will talk about sustainability we will not take the smallest step to stop unnecessary waste and reduce our use of water and energy.

If We Can’t Buy Water in Bottles, Where Will We Get Water?

The By-law will cause us to change a few habits. After all we have been buying drinks in disposable plastic bottles for nearly thirty years.

No Place to Get Water

First of all the By-Law is drafted so that the sale will be banned only where other sources of water exist. No one will be without water.

Further, we need to start making water, that that taxpayer has already paid for, available in public. That means water fountains. Concerns about public water fountains are usually twofold:
1. Cost: According to our Parks Department a water fountain can be installed at a cost of $5,000 to $10,000. (Less than the annual cost people are already paying the Town’s vendors for water in plastic containers)
2. Public Health: While anecdotes are legion I offer two facts:
a. The North Simcoe District Health Unit has no policy against the installation and/or use of public drinking fountains
b. The School Boards in our area who are very concerned about the health of our children are building new schools with public drinking fountains.

So we can give the public back the access to their water.

You Can’t Control the Public Using Water Bottles

That is true. The By-Law does not intend to restrict the use of these bottles by the public.

The By-Law Will Not Resolve the Issue

The By-Law in and of itself will only ban the sale of bottles at Town facilities. The problem is much bigger.

The By-law is also important as a “message”. It will tell the citizens of Midland how Council views the topics of waste, water and energy conservation. It will help citizens answer the question, “Is this Council committed to sustainability?”. The City Council of London Ontario understood this by including the phrase in their By-law “The City Council wishes to set a positive example to the London community on environmental matters”. We should too.

The Town will Lose Revenue

The Town’s vendors gross about $14,000 from the sale of water bottles. The Town’s profit on this is $9,000. Therefore the Town will experience a real financial drop of some $9,000 annually.

(Council should also be aware that the Town has put itself in the position of choosing not to install public fountains in its facilities, thereby denying taxpayers access to their water and then profiting when they buy the high priced alternative.)

Town Water Unsafe or Unacceptable

As our Council well knows, the quality and acceptability of Town water is of the highest order. (Refer Public Works).

I Already Recycle - Isn’t It Enough?

Recycling is good. But it is still far from the ideal solution for disposable plastic bottles. As mentioned above:
- Many of those recyclable bottles never make it to recycling. For many reasons they end up in landfill. Recycling will never be 100%
- But even if we hit 100% recycling, making, shipping and retailing of plastic water bottle exacts a cost:
a. An additional two bottles of water is consumed in manufacturing
b. The equivalent of a quarter of a bottle of oil is used


Yes, plastic water bottles are convenient. That is why Canadians consume more than 2 billion litres of bottled water a year. And we do this despite the fact that we here in Midland can have better quality water from our tap for just a few pennies.

The By-Law is about sending a message. The message is simple. Midland chooses to become a sustainable community. And that we as a Council want show leadership on this very important topic.

1 comment:

Vondra said...

Keep up the good work.