Church rails against sin of bottled water
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.
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.”