Bottled water competes with city budgets at U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual meeting
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It’s bottled vs. tap this weekend as mayors from across the country gather for the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and a vote that could banish the bottle from city meetings and offices.
A resolution scheduled for a vote Monday urges cities to phase out the use of bottled water except in emergency situations. It was proposed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who estimated a ban on bottled water saved his city $1 million, and is backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
But it’s not just the larger cities that support the ban. Dan Coody, mayor of Fayetteville, Arkansas, population 68,000-plus, and co-chair of the Conference’s Water Council, said his city discontinued the use of bottled water several years ago.
Coody said he didn’t know how much bottled water cost the city, but the main issues included spending money 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.
“I suspect it (the resolution) will pass,” he said, a prediction echoed by others, including Coody’s co-chair on the Water Council, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez.
“My sense is the mayors are going to say ‘we’re not going to buy it for our employes when the water cooler down the hall is just fine,’” Chavez said in a telephone interview last month, shortly after the Water Council received a detailed briefing on the costs and environmental implications of using bottled water.
“We learned that bottled water costs more than 1,000 times what public water costs,” Chavez said. And, 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.”
By banning bottled water from city offices and events, mayors say they are demonstrating support for municipal water systems.
The nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors was established to represent the 1,139 U.S. cities with a population over 30,000. Coody estimated about 350 mayors actively participate.
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 less than 30% of water bottles are recycled.
In her presentation, 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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