Friday, 22 August 2008

Banning Plastic Bottles and the Chinese Solution: Cleaner Water to Drink and Cleaner Oceans in the End

When I was in Shanghai in 2005 one of the things that most impressed me was the way everyone walked or biked round with a steel vacuum bottle filled with boiling hot water. In my hotel room there was a much larger one, filled in the morning and in which the water remained scalding for 24 hours, and a smaller one which I finally figured you were supposed to pour water that you wanted to cool off. The principle was simple: in a place where water supplies are not completely secure, making sure the water people drink is hot enough to kill microbes is basic public health.

I traveled to India that year too, but there carrying one's own boiling water supply was rare. Instead anyone with the money bought bottled water when away from a source they knew secure. I remember two beautiful, blonde Swedish girls who were working hard at learning Malayalam in Kerala State but who resorted to shouts of "Aquafina" when buying water through open train windows.

London, Ontario has just banned the sale of bottled water on public premises, Toronto is talking about doing the same, and this morning's Le Devoir has a story about how only 44 per cent of Quebec's billion plastic bottles will be recycled this year. The cordillera of "disposable" water containers is a tremendous problem, indeed.

Putting aside the question of why North Americans need to have a bottle of water with them constantly--Adrienne asks if we weren't weaned properly--it is clear there's a great need to switch to other ways to carry around our water. Reusable plastic containers have been around for a long time: we've got some we still use which we bought in the 1970s when we were camping a lot. The Chinese option of containers to carry boiling water makes a lot of sense where the quality of water is uneven.

But as I write that I ask myself: what's it like in China now? Have Pepsico (Acquafina's parent company) and other beverage manufacturers worked a sea change there too?

A sea change. Unfortunately as we know billions and billions of plastic bottles and bags end up in the oceans every year, and they are not biodegraded, but will continue to float around for centuries. That's the kind of sea change we've wrought over the last three decades which will have terrible consequences for other forms of life on this planet.

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