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U.S. Conference of Mayors votes to ban bottled water

WaterWebster.org staff report

6/23/08

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Mayors representing about 250 U.S. cities voted Monday to ban bottled water from city meetings and offices, except in cases of emergency.

On a voice vote, members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors supported a resolution proposed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom that urges all mayors to phase out, “where feasible,” bottled water and support municipal water, said conference spokesperson Elena Temple.

Newsom earlier estimated San Francisco saved $1 million by using tap water instead of bottled. Co-sponsors of the resolution represented cities large and small, from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chicago’s Richard Daley, to Mayors Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, Ma., and Dan Coody of Fayetteville, Ar. Both Somerville and Fayetteville have populations under 80,000.

Coody, co-chair of the Conference’s Water Council, said in a telephone interview before the conference started that his city discontinued the use of bottled water several years ago.

He said he didn’t know how much Fayetteville had been spending on bottled water, but the main issues included paying for water that in many cases “is exactly the same quality as what’s right next to you in the kitchen.”

Environmental factors are another concern for many mayors, he said. The increased popularity of bottled water means more trash for landfills and more energy used for production and shipping.

Coody’s co-chair on the Water Council, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, said a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ study determined “bottled water costs more than 1,000 times what public water costs.” According to statistics provided to the Water Council, 25%-40% of all bottled water in the U.S. comes from the tap, some filtered and some not.

“That really graphically reinforced why cities aren’t buying bottled water,” he said, “you wouldn’t buy a pencil that cost 1,000 times more than another pencil.”

The resolution adopted by the mayors said local governments invest approximately $82 billion a year to provide water and sewer services.

The nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors was established to represent the 1,139 U.S. cities with a population over 30,000. About 250 attend the convention, according to a staff person.

At its national conference last year, the mayors voted to study the implications of banning bottled water and asked for recommendations to be ready for this year’s meeting.

Laura Spanjian, external affairs assistant general manager of the San Francisco Water Utility, whose presentation to the Water Council was a significant part of the mayors’ study, said prior to the conference that less than 30% of water bottles are recycled.

In her May presentation to the Water Council, she noted that in 2006, total bottled water consumption in the U.S. hit 27.6 gallons per capita up from 25.4 gallons in 2005, meaning U.S. residents now drink more bottled water annually than any other beverage, other than carbonated soft drinks.

Seventy-four percent of Americans drink bottled water, and one in five drinks only bottled water, according to a 2002 survey sponsored by the EPA and conducted by the Gallup Organization.

Even though soft drinks and other container beverages take up far more landfill space, bottled water, said several mayors, is just an unnecessary addition to the problem. The bottles themselves only can be recycled once, compared to multiple times for glass and aluminum, according to the mayors’ studies, and few states include water bottles in recycling deposits, making it more difficult to reduce the volume reaching landfills. The plastic, although compressed as trash, takes generations to decompose.

“We’re not asking the industry to stop all sales,” said Spanjian, and the resolution urges cities to retain bottled water for emergencies.

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