When eco-trivia overwhelms real threats to the planet

mac-water-bottle-poster-2-webWith so many real and pressing environmental crises threatening to harm Planet Earth, why are so many well-meaning environmentalists so easily diverted into foolhardy projects like the campaign to ban plastic water bottles?

On January 1, the Town of Concord, Massachusetts, prohibited the sale of “non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter (34 ounces) or less.” To be clear, it’s still OK to sell small, plastic bottles of Coke, Red Bull, colored sugar-water, and carbonated water, and it’s OK to sell Just Plain Water in 40-oz plastic bottles or gallon jugs.

In an approving report on the ban, the Globe and Mail zeroed in an oft-repeated environmental trope that appears to have its origin in a June, 2007, editorial in the New York Times.

The recommended eight glasses of water a day, at U.S. tap rates, equals about 49 cents a year. The same amount of bottled water costs about $1,400, according to the tap water activist group Ban the Bottle.

Except:

  • The recommendation for drinking eight glasses of water per day is quackery, debunked at Snopes.com and many other places.
  • No bottled water defender recommends that people consume water exclusively from bottles, merely that it’s a convenient way to drink water in some circumstances — such as in a car or on a beach, where municipal water taps tend to be scarce.
  • The proposition that bottled water use lowers public support for municipal water supplies (which are all but ubiquitous in North American towns and cities) suffers from an absence of evidence.
  • The Concord, MA, ban wisely omits emergencies when municipal supplies are contaminated or unavailable—unusual, but hardly unheard of events.

For his part, Contrarian drinks many glasses of tap water, but from time to time, he prefers the convenience of a recyclable plastic bottle, whether newly purchased with water inside, or refilled with tap water from his non-municipal bore hole. Sometimes he freezes water in bottles to take to the beach on hot summer days.

When one of these bottles has served its purpose, Contrarian carefully places it in the recycle bin, thereby contributing revenue his rural municipality can use to maintain water systems in places other than Boularderie Island.

He would like the Globe and Mail and the Town of Concord to get off his case.

H/T: JP (who might disagree).

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