Yet somehow, when we’re looking to quench our thirst, an awful lot of us reflexively reach for bottled water, not that same fresh, drinkable water available at a tiny fraction of the price simply by turning on the tap.
Our overreliance on bottled water is a waste of money and a detriment to the environment. It’s time we resolved to end it.
Bottled water has become an enormous industry. Astonishingly Canadians now spend about $2.5 billion on it every year. We guzzle 2.5 billion litres, or more than 71 litres a year for every man, woman and child – three and half times the amount we drank 20 years ago. This, despite having some of the cleanest drinking water in the world.
To be sure, there are parts of Canada, in First Nations communities and remote locales, where tap water is not safe to drink. But the vast majority of people in urban areas have nothing to worry about.
Canada’s bottled water industry has argued that customers actually drink tap water at home and buy bottles when they’re out as an alternative to other packaged drinks, like pop or juice.
But that suggests a troubling degree of lazy consumerism and a willingness to succumb to corporate marketing.
You can likely get free tap water at almost any establishment that will sell you bottled water, though they won’t necessarily advertise that fact.
The menu at McDonald’s, for instance, features bottles of Dasani, though if you want water instead of Coke with your Big Mac, servers can fill up a cup from the tap, at little or no charge.
Likewise, Tim Hortons will serve you a cup of water for free if you ask, but the chain specifically recommends bottled water in its online list of “better-for-you menu offerings.”
Of course, the worst slight against bottled water is that it’s a needless burden on the environment as a significant proportion of our plastic drinking bottles end up in landfills where they will sit for centuries.
So what’s to be done? Promising efforts are already being made to wean Canadians off the bottle. Toronto is one of more than 80 Canadian towns and cities that restrict the sale of bottled water on municipal property.
But making the move back to tap water will also require making it more easily available in public. That means bringing back the old drinking fountain, which has largely gone the way of the phone booth. Once a staple of the public space, fountains are increasingly rare. Those that remain are often broken or poorly maintained.
To get Canadians back on the tap, we need city staff to ensure our parks and other public spaces have working fountains. Our schools should have more fountains and fewer bottle-dispensing vending machines. Private buildings like malls and offices should also make drinking water readily available.
Governments are quite good at helping us break our bad habits, as we’ve seen with cigarettes and plastic bags. Our reliance on bottled water is no different. It’s time to make the clean, fresh, drinkable water that we’re so keen to celebrate a greater part of our lives.