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I still say that bottled water reflects poorly on Vancouver!

July 10, 2016


Okay, so I took a pretty photo of a plastic water bottle. One might even say that it neatly sums up 100,000 years of human development, as in:

“The modern holder of water, the happy plastic bottle, reflects on its prehistoric antecedent—the depression in the ground”.

I’ll take my prize in small, unmarked bills please. But don’t expect me to thank Nestlé S.A., or Coca-Cola (maker of Dasani and Vitamin Water), or Pepsi (maker of Aquafina) or Fiji Water or even Vancouver’s own Happy Water—no matter how much money I ever make off their packaged tap water!

Looking a gift H2Orse in the mouth

As a person who actually earns most of his income by binning for returnable beverage containers—and knowing full well that discarded plastic water bottles are one of the mainstays of my income as a binner—I still wish that bottled water would totally disappear as a thing.

When I moved to Vancouver in 1980. the mere idea of bottle water would’ve sounded absurd and nonsensical, like packaged air with a best-before date. After all, every one of Vancouver’s estimated 2,7 million residents agreed on one thing, if absolutely nothing else—that, without a doubt, the city’s tap water (much of it said to come from glacier-fed streams) was the healthiest and tastiest water in the entire world!

I could hardly disagree, fresh as I was from Saskatchewan, where the well water almost contained enough minerals to stick to a magnet. To my taste, Vancouver’s tap water was scary delicious and 36 years later I still think so.

Knowing some of the reasons why so many Vancouverites now resort to buying and drinking bottled water doesn’t make it any less of a shame; especially as the reasons literally don’t hold water.

There’s the fact that Metro Vancouver has experienced a great deal of immigration in 36 years from places in the world (not to mention places within Canada) where “water” and “safe” are not synonymous, to say  the least.

It’s also a fact that ozone holes and global warming and every manner of ecological catastrophe have been exploited in the last three decades to create huge fear-based markets for sunscreen and bug repellent and long-sleeved clothing and filter masks and hats and, yes, little plastic bottles of over-priced tap water.

And this year will mark the 10th anniversary of one of the events that I believe really sealed the deal for Vancouverites—the week in November of 2006 that I will never forget—when Greater Vancouver was placed under a boil water advisory!

Oh, be still my turbid heart! I still can’t believe that such a thing ever happened.

It was truly a surreal experience, especially for us binners—such a bounty of discarded empty water bottles in November, comparable only to the hottest August heatwave! You just can’t imagine.

And when the advisory was lifted…people just tossed tossed out flats and flats of unopened bottled water—what a waste!

The reality, is still that the City of Vancouver and the region of Metro Vancouver enjoy some of the world’s best and safest water right out of the tap. What has changed is the public perception, and for that we can thank the miracle of marketing.

Anyway, as  I say, despite the hit that I would personally take in the pocket book as a binner, I actually wish that Metro Vancouver would straight out ban commercial bottled water in all quantities, or at the very least, below 19 litre quantities for office water coolers.

And you would think, in fact, that Metro would want to do this, if it felt that the safety of all its municipal water systems could be guaranteed. It would take a lot of plastic out of the waste stream—plastic that all the municipalities would’ve been glad to be rid of 10 years ago.

But perhaps I’m confusing the now-obsolete goals of the old municipally-run recycling systems, to eliminate all waste streams, with the new privately-run recycling system of Multi-Materials B.C., where all the municipalities in Metro Vancouver are merely contractors for the private sector. And where the new impetus informing all aspects of recycling appears to be the profit motive, with MMBC only apparently interested in eliminating non-profitable waste streams.

And in the new normal of summer water shortages that Metro Vancouver is clearly bracing for, does bottled water take any kind of meaningful strain off the hard-pressed watersheds in July and August? One has to wonder.

In any event, plastic water bottles aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon, except into the garbage—often as not, still a quarter full. Grrr! Click the image to enlarge it.

  1. Buke Lacktavose permalink

    Agree with you on this. I like your bike/trailer setup. Can you tell me more about it? Is trailer a custom setup?

    • My bicycle trailer is a basic 24″-wide child trailer, stripped of all canvas and vertical elements. The most visually distinctive aspect–the cargo box–was something I hand-built back in the spring of 2010.

      The box principally uses various pieces of new-bought welded steel display gridding, cut up and put together with 30-or-so steel butterfly clips, at a material cost close to $200. The rigid orange stuff was actually an add-on. Originally I made a back of orange mesh, which wasn’t really good at what it needed to do. I soon replaced it with pieces of a discarded, retro-reflective corplast sign, which has worked very nicely and probably saved my life once or twice.

      The cargo box has had to be cut up twice since it was built six years ago so that it could be fitting onto new trailer frames (with nothing more than hose clamps). The box is now on it’s third trailer frame.

      Frankly, it’s time to replace the frame and the cargo box itself is showing considerable wear and tear, with a number of broken welds.

      Personally, I blame the wine bottles.

      • Buke Lacktavose permalink

        Thanks for the reply! Looks like a nice setup that a lot of thought went into. I like your well thought out and professionally composed blog posts. Thank you for this.

  2. Rodney Clarke permalink

    A more apt description of the suff would be trucked water. From the truck that steals it from aquifers and waterfalls and trucks it to processing facilities where it is then trucked to a distributor who trucks it to a retailer where it is sold to someone who takes it home in their truck before it’s tossed in a bin where it waits for someone in a truck to escort it to the recycling depot.
    Probably missed several steps in there that involved trucking
    And now you tell me that flats of the stuff are routinely discarded unconsumed?

    • At some point after they’ve paid for it, I think it eventually occurs to people that the stuff is just water and, well, Vancouverites waste water. I was in line in a London Drugs checkout with a person ahead of me buying a 4L jug of water. It slipped out of her hand and in seconds was transformed from a product worth $2.19 to plain water all over the floor.

  3. Have you noticed the billboards around town featuring Jennifer Aniston, the Smartwater brand advisor/shill? She ships the stuff via private jet to wherever she is then a driver is hired to follow her around in Chevrolet Suburban insuring her insatiable thirst is forever slaked. Of course Smartwater is owned by Coca-cola.

    • Really the issue could use endless serious treatments and not just a rant. Your point about the trucking of bottled water (and thus it’s huge carbon footprint) is a very good one. Unfortunately bottled water has been successfully positioned as a sort of soft drink surrogate for adults who want a brand to choose and clutch but feel sugar water makes them look childish.

      Personally, I think there’s nothing for it but to outlaw the practice of manufacturing and selling bottled water. Metro could also start promoting the high quality of the region’s municipal water.

  4. Hear, here, my friend

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