March 15, 2012 was the first national Bottled Water Free Day. In 2010 Canadians first marked the day though the annual campaign had been in the works since 2005. The day was created to raise awareness about sustainable water, the waste involved in the processing of bottled water and how safe bottled water really is. In 60 campuses and communities across Canada, activists participated in campaigns against the proliferation and privatization of bottled water.
Bottled water hit Canadian society in the 1980s. Since then the market has grown astronomically. Even though Canada has one of the best systems for safe, clean, municipal drinking water in the world, corporations have gone to great lengths to normalize the idea that bottled water is healthier, safer and cleaner. In 1999 it was estimated that 24.4 litres were consumed per person. In 2005, this figure jumped to 60 litres per person. According to Statistics Canada 30 per cent of households consumed bottled water in 2008. There are now more than 100 different brands of bottled water available in Canada. Eight per cent of them are imported.
Accessible public water is the biggest competitor to bottled water. Corporations take millions of litres from local watersheds and other water resources that previously were meant for the community. On campuses and in municipal buildings and elementary schools, deals have been signed with exclusive beverage companies, typically Coke or Pepsi. Each company has a vested interest in banning access to free water and resources. This means it’s harder for students and community members to find working water fountains and there is less motivation for decision makers to provide free water.
There are also endless environmental and health concerns. The plastic used for bottled water contains highly toxic chemicals. These bottles are the fastest growing source of municipal waste in Canada. In 2008, 162 million barrels of oil was used to create, transport and dispose of water bottles across the globe. If the pollution wasn’t enough, contrary to the myths produced by bottled water companies, tap water is regularly tested whereas bottle water is rarely inspected.
This year bottled water free day is celebrated on March 20th.