Letting Go of Disposable Water Bottles

Letting go of disposable water bottles.

Bottled Water is Overrated

This one should be a pretty straightforward win. We can really do without disposable water bottles. The amount of plastic generated by our water bottles is obscene, and growing (see A Million Bottles a Minute). Now, I get that we need water. For those of you who know me personally, you know that I drink a fair amount of water every day.

I normally have a water glass hovering nearby or my trusty water bottle within reach. My water glass and I are reasonably attached, and I admit that I can get a little antsy if I don’t have access to water. Water is life, but it’s also personal. I get genuine satisfaction from filling my water glass or bottle.

Working Up a Sweat

Homer Simpson working up a sweat

Like many of you out there, I’m often on the go, getting things done and taking care of my endless task-list. My water bottle is my constant companion, and it’s become second nature. Perhaps because I move around a lot, overheat quickly, or spend a lot of time talking and socializing, but my thirst for plain old refreshingly awesome water is bona fide.

With my family, not so much. For example, my grandad would make the old joke about what fish do in water, and stick to wine (he wasn’t an alcoholic, just Italian).

Unlike my grandad however, I was raised with an educational system that emphasized the importance of staying hydrated (although I did inherit his affection for wine). This was later compounded during my experience with the Canadian Forces, where the need to drink water and stay hydrated is drilled into all service members. If you passed out from dehydration, it was a chargeable offense that you yourself were responsible for.

Clear As An Unpolluted Mountain Stream

Water pollution

We know that proper hydration is vital to good health, and there is plenty of scientific evidence to prove this (click here for a shortlist of benefits). I’ve started off by reiterating all this to clarify that my opposition to disposable water bottles is really to the vessel.

I’m a big fan of people making healthy choices and opting for water as their preferred beverage (see dangers of sugary drinks and sodas). Rather, I am adamantly opposed to our unsustainable addiction to plastic.

Another Brick in the Plastic Wall

Plastic fish sculptures made from disposable water bottles.
These guys were made from discarded plastic bottles.

This interest in bottled water is heavily influenced by contemporary industrial practices and heavily funded corporate marketing and lobbying. For more on bottled water as big business and its impact on society and the environment, check out My Top 5 Water Docs.

There are some really insightful films out there that offer a reflection of what is fueling consumer demand for bottled water. Despite the corporate push however, the reality remains that much of the tap water in the developed world is perfectly safe to drink. Indeed, it took a lot of effort, science, and engineering to get us to this point but we’ve been understandably deterred along the way.

Don’t Fear the Tap

Here in Tokyo for instance, the water is pretty awesome. Just the other day I had yet another visit from our local city water technician. This time around, he was validating the taste quality of our tap water (something the city had been apparently working on). The water here does look crazy clean coming out of the tap, so much so that it’s almost unreal.

I mean, we have great water in Canada, but it had never come out of the faucet so shiny and clear as it does here. One of the things I have since discovered, is that they use a fair amount of Chlorine to get it that way (on the higher scale of what is still considered perfectly safe). As a result, we use a filter at home to help remove the unwanted Chlorine.

The Humble Water Fountain

Parks & Rec water fountain gif.

It really doesn’t take much to fill your water bottle before leaving your home. Any change is initially difficult to be sure, but this one is totally doable. For added motivation, just look as some of the images of all the disposable water bottles polluting our environment.

Thankfully, cities, schools, and business are taking notice and helping with the transition from disposable bottles. These changes include the introduction of water refill points as well as increasing (and refurbishing) the number of existing water fountains.

Montreal Bans Water Bottles

The City Hall of Montreal, Canada
Montreal’s City Hall.

Just last month, the City of Montreal decided it was time to ban disposable plastic water bottles from all municipal facilities, arenas, and libraries (CBC). Not a total city-wide ban yet, but a significant start considering it’s the first city in Canada to do so.

In fact, Montreal had already started to phase out plastic bags over the past few years (for instance disposable bags at grocery stores were no longer given, but paid for, encouraging you to bring your own), enacting a formal plastic bag ban this past January.

The disposable plastic bag ban came into effect just last week (on June 5th, World Environment Day), with the threat of increasing fines for offenses of non-compliance. These initiatives are great and will certainly help raise consumer consciousness if done effectively. Therein lies the challenge. We need to do away with the plastic waste, but still ensure that we are still able to satisfy our basic needs (aka drinking water).

Back in My Day

The downtown campus of Montreal's Concordia University. The university banned disposable water bottles.
My alma mater, Concordia University.

During my university days, I also got involved in student politics and was president of the History Students Association (SHAC), as well as Chairperson for the Concordia University Student Union (CSU). While chair, I got to witness the student-led movement that led to the university’s ban on bottled water the following year (May 2012).

This was an amazing achievement to be sure! We got the water bottles out of our offices and vending machines and gave away or subsidized copious amounts of reusable bottles.

Students were rightly proud of their win, and it was a first for the city (other university student bodies later came to us for consultation). I was happy to see the bottles gone from the vending machines, but at the same time, the machines were still there. They simply had more sodas. It didn’t feel like a total win as a result.

Japanese vending machines selling all kinds of disposables, including of course, plastic water bottles...
Vending machines are pervasive throughout Japan.

Some Considerations

Knowing as you do now my strong affinity for drinking water (not into the sugary stuff), you can imagine how strange it was to no longer have water as as option at the machines or campus stores. Also, many of our water fountains at the time were in disrepair, nor were they designed for refilling water bottles.

The university has since undergone a number of costly renovations, and everything is now pretty convenient and state of the art, but at the time I remember wandering the halls thirsty for water.

Needless to say, when your school, office, or city finally decide to adopt a bottle water ban, be sure to provide an adequate number of drinking fountains and refill stations to compensate.

Reusables for the Win

The breaking bad boys

Reusable bottles make sense. I’m not yet a minimalist, but I have long since past the interest in consumerism. I much rather spend my money on good food and awesome experiences. Still, we do need things! When I decide to buy though, I’m admittedly picky about it.

I go for quality products that reflect a classic taste, but that are still cool and contemporary. I especially favor a good pair of walking shoes, a proper backpack, and a reliable and convenient water bottle.

Plenty of Choice in Reusable Bottles

Reusable water bottles are awesome
Click the image for a review of some of the top reusable water bottles.

By convenient, I mean something that’s the right size and offers easy access, while still retaining it’s durability. You can opt for plastic, metal, or even glass. Each has its own advantages. You’re welcome to click the above image for a rundown on some reusable water bottle options that are currently out there. I’m personally fond of glass when possible, but am most often with my aluminum one.

Glass really is a great material! One reason is that it is infinitely recyclable (pretty cool). However, I do understand that it isn’t necessarily the most convenient when out for a run or a bike ride. Aluminum is nice and light and keeps your water cool, although I do prefer the see through the bottle if possible. I’ve also seen some pretty sweet ceramic and wooden bottles! Whatever your preference, I do encourage you to pack in your water bottle as you head out tomorrow and ditch the disposables if you haven’t already.

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