Church rails against sin of bot­tled wa­ter

The Washington Times Weekly - - Page Two - By Kevin Bell

The United Church of Canada, the na­tion’s largest Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tion, has added an item to its list of “im­moral” acts: drink­ing bot­tled wa­ter.

Prompted by an 18-year-old stu­dent from rural On­tario, the church urged its 3 mil­lion mem­bers in Au­gust to drink tap wa­ter in­stead. The church says wa­ter is “God’s sa­cred gift” and should be avail­able to all peo­ple and not ex­ploited for profit.

The­boy­cotthaspit­tedthe­ac­tivist church — rep­re­sent­ing about 10 per­cent of Canada’s 33 mil­lion peo­ple — against bev­er­age gi­ants such as Coca-Cola Co. and Pep­sico Inc. The bot­tled-wa­ter in­dus­try had $10 bil­lion in North Amer­i­can sales last year,in­cludingabout$572mil­lionin Canada.

“There is this in­sid­i­ous, creep­ing sense­pro­mot­ed­bypeo­ple­who­have avested in­ter­est that it’s bet­ter if you buy your wa­ter,” says Richard Cham­bers, an ex­ec­u­tive min­is­ter in the church, based in Toronto.

“If a fam­ily has $50 to spend on gro­ceries, there is now a sense they should be spend­ing $8 or $10 of that ona­cou­ple­of­cas­esof­bot­tled­wa­ter.”

Bot­tlers say the church’s cam­paig­nis­mis­guid­ed­be­causethe­com­pa­nies of­fer wa­ter as an al­ter­na­tive to other bev­er­ages, in­clud­ing tap wa­ter.

“Peo­ple drink bot­tled wa­ter for the­safety,good­taste­and­porta­bil­ity,” says El­iz­a­beth Gris­wold, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Bot­tled Wa­t­erAs­so­ci­a­tion,whichrep­re­sents most­pro­duc­ers.“Thati­sakey­point missed by the United Church.”

Sales haven’t dropped be­cause of the church’s cam­paign, she says.

The church’s gen­eral coun­cil passed the res­o­lu­tion Aug. 17 at the prompt­ing of Jor­dan Newell, a high school stu­dent in Spring­field, On­tario.He­sayshe­wasin­spired­by­his lo­cal pas­tor’s dis­cus­sion of the is­sue dur­ing a Fe­bru­ary ser­mon.

“They’re tak­ing this clean wa­ter, and they’re sell­ing it back to us,” Mr. Newell says. “They’re mak­ing us scared of tap wa­ter, some­thing that is per­fectly fine. It’s pretty much im­moral.”

Theres­o­lu­tion­prompt­ed­someof thechurch’s3,677con­gre­ga­tion­sna­tion­widetostopselling­bot­tled­wa­ter at fundrais­ers.

“Wa­ter is a sa­cred gift that con­nects all life,” the res­o­lu­tion says. “Pri­va­ti­za­tion­turn­sacom­mon­good into a com­mod­ity, de­priv­ing those who can­not pay and fur­ther threat­en­ing lo­cal ecosys­tems.”

The United Church has a tra­di­tion of stak­ing out po­si­tions on so­cial is­sues. It wants the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to rec­og­nize na­tive land claims, stop its in­volve­ment in gam­bling and lot­ter­ies, and in­crease spend­ing on af­ford­able hous­ing.

The church also sup­ports same­sex “mar­riage” and wider ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tives.

The­ef­fort­a­gain­st­bot­tled­wa­teris part of the “Wa­ter in Fo­cus” cam­paign, which en­cour­ages con­gre­ga­tion mem­bers to pres­sure gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions to pro­tect wa­ter­sheds from ex­ploita­tion and pol­lu­tion. Ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als in­clude­ac­tion­book­lets,brochure­sand a map link­ing “wa­ter strug­gles” around the world.

The church says the world’s poor are los­ing ac­cess to clean wa­ter. It says that more than 1 bil­lion peo­ple world­wide lack safe drink­ing wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion ser­vices.

In Canada, the church is con­cerned about the sus­tain­abil­ity of aquifers and the lit­ter from mil­lions of dis­carded wa­ter bot­tles.

Miss Gris­wold says the plas­tic wa­ter bot­tles can be re­cy­cled, and con­sumers are re­spon­si­ble for the lit­ter­ing.

Bot­tled wa­ter is far more ex­pen­sive than mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter. A liter (33.8 ounces) of tap wa­ter in Canada costs tax­pay­ers an av­er­age of less than one-10th of a cent, Toronto’s city gov­ern­ment says. That means a liter of bot­tled wa­ter sell­ing for $2.50 is more than 2,000 times more ex­pen­sive.

Coca-Cola, the world’s big­gest bot­tler, uses mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter from Cal­gary and Bramp­ton, On­tario, for its Dasani brand. The At­lanta com­pa­ny­fil­ters the wa­ter five times to re­move chem­i­cals, odors and bac­te­ria, and adds min­er­als to im­prove the taste, spokes­woman Stephanie Bax­ter says.

“We are of­fer­ing con­sumers a choice,” she says. “We are not ask­ing con­sumers to pick bot­tled wa­ter over tap wa­ter.”

Pur­chase, N.Y.-based Pep­sico, the world’s sec­ond-big­gest soda maker, sells wa­ter un­der the Aqua­fina name. Com­pany spokes­woman Michelle Naughton said any com­ment should come from the In­ter­na­tional Bot­tled Wa­ter As­so­ci­a­tion in Alexan­dria, whose spokesman, Stephen Kay, re­it­er­ated Miss Gris­wold’s points.

Miss Gris­wold says it’s un­fair for the church to sin­gle out the bot­tled­wa­ter in­dus­try be­cause it makes up on­ly6per­centofCanada’sbev­er­age mar­ket.

She also says the in­dus­try uses less than 1 per­cent of all the wa­ter drawn­inCanadaeachyear—about thee­quiv­a­lentoftheamoun­tuse­don 10 golf cour­ses year-round.

“It is a move that has been mis­guided,” she says of the church cam­paign.

Bloomberg News

All wet? Jor­dan Newell, 18, of On­tario, whose ef­forts prompted the United Church of Christ of Canada to call for a boy­cott of bot­tled wa­ter, says bot­tlers are “mak­ing us scared of tap wa­ter, some­thing that is per­fectly fine.”

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