Science, Now + Beyond

Ontario’s capping the bottled water industry

Because of many environmental concerns, Ontario is proposing a 2-year stop to bottled water.

In light of the growing population and ever-increasing threat of climate change, the Ontario government is trying to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of bottled water & its environmental impacts. They have proposed a two-year stop on the creation and expansion of bottled water companies. If the regulation goes through, it will be in effect from January 1, 2017 to 2019. Essentially, these two years will be used to reassess how we are handling groundwater extraction overall, with particular eyes on water bottling.

What’s so bad about bottled water?

Although water bottling doesn’t make up a huge percentage of water-taking in Ontario, it is the industry with the least return – that is to say, the water that they take out doesn’t go back into the same watershed. Other institutions, be they companies or otherwise, normally return a good amount of the water that they used, in one way or another, into the same environment. In the case of bottled water it’s not really possible because, well, that’s the whole point: to bottle up water and sell it every where, even outside the normal range of a watershed.

The ban puts a stop not only on the issuance of permits for extracting water and manufacturing it, but also on pumping tests. A pumping test is a quality test of a water source that a company might do before, say, seeking a permit to extract and manufacture the water.

Additionally, the regulation will prevent existing bottling companies from increasing the amount of water they extract, especially in times of drought. As the Environmental Registry described its intention, “ the Ministry needs to ensure that the rules governing water takings are adequate to protect and conserve our groundwater for future generations”.

The Guradian
The Guradian

The regulation comes at a time of tension between local communities and big business. Nestlé just purchased the rights to a spring in Centre Wellington, a transaction that has been protested by local residents. The community’s intention was to keep the spring as a public water supply, especially considering their population is projected to hit 50,000 in the next 25 years. Now, due to the timely introduction of the moratorium, Nestlé will have to wait until 2019 to even start its pumping tests.

A booming industry with terrible repercussions

In the last 30 years the bottled water industry was born and has been growing almost uncontrollably. Despite the access that so many areas have to clean water from municipal sources, people have chosen to forego using reusable bottles. Doing so would save a lot of energy – according to the Ban the Bottle campaign, the production of water bottles just to keep up with American demand uses up 17 million barrels of oil every year. The same amount of oil could fuel 1.3 million cars in the same amount of time. Although recycling has become more popular in the last decade, in 2012 only 6.5% of the 33.6 million tons of discarded plastic bottles were recycled. The rest were either burned into electricity or heat, or placed into landfills.

There will be a 45-day period for public comment, and the regulation will be put into place at the start of the new year – and we’ll see what happens if a growing population has a stagnant amount of bottled water.