Tapping Into The Truth of Plastic Water Bottles
Written for Surfrider Pacific Rim, Tofino Time, May 2018
Canada is endowed with the longest coastline and the most freshwater lakes in the world, which leaves no doubt that the people who reside within these constructed borders are water people. As these people, our experiences are defined by the type of water we live by and engage with – whether that is by the ocean, lakeside, or in the mountains where water is white and lays itself along the land’s curves. Although we are water abundant, our relationship with this life force is anything but crystal clear, and sadly, the unwavering support water gives us is not exactly reciprocated. Our main use of the element H20 is the foundation for all other applications: to live, we must drink water. We can’t very well water our lawns, hot tubs, chia pets, slip ‘n’ slides, or anything else without being hydrated ourselves.
So, where does the water in Tofino come from? It comes from a reserve on Meares Island, which is transferred to the Bay Street Pump House, the Ahkmahksis Water Treatment Plant through submerged pipelines, where it is treated, stored and delivered to Tofino for consumption. This water source lives under the gaze of the rainforest, fed by our rainy skies, and purified by the intact ecosystem it is a part of. The testament to this sacred water spring lives in the locals: people often say, “wow these coastal folks look so young and healthy”. The reality is that there probably is something in the water!
Though we have access to this amazing water source, both residents and visitors still turn to bottled water. Yes, it is recommended to have some in storage in case of an emergency like a tsunami. However, a vast majority of the time plastic bottles are purchased to drink on the daily. Now, ask yourself, where does this water originate from? Many water bottle companies use water sources from some of the most drought ridden places in the West. The prime example of this is California, where water sources that are in a severe state of lack are exploited for people who have ample water – like us. The costs do not stop here, it is estimated in North America that 60-70% of plastic water bottles sold are not recycled, they end up in landfills and our waterways. The carbon cost of this product is also grim, the Pacific Institute has calculated that the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil are used to make plastic bottles every year in the US (many of which are exported to Canada). Then, you have to add the fossil fuels used for transportation of water bottles, refrigerated units to cool the bottles, and energy used to recycle bottles if and when they make it that far.
What about pollution? One plastic water bottle can break down into enough small pieces to be present on every mile of every beach in the world. This seems incomprehensible, in B.C. alone it feels as though we have countless beaches, and it would take ages for one person to traverse every mile of these sandy shores. From our over reliance on this product, it’s not surprising that plastic bottles have become one of the most common forms of plastic found in our seas and coastlines. In 16 days of remote clean ups, Surfrider Pacific Rim collected 30K plastic bottles – and this is just from the surface; it’s estimated around 10% of what’s on the surface is accessible to be picked up. This is also a low amount compared to many places that exist within convergent zones, like Hawaii, or places that have lack of recycling infrastructure, like Indonesia. For these places, finding 30K bottles in the expanse that we did would be a blessing.
Plastic pollution is also occurs closer than any beach: within our own bodies. Recent studies have shown that 90% of plastic bottles are contaminated with microplastic pollution. As these findings have just been released this year, we have a journey ahead of us to figure out what the implications of this are. As the precautionary principle would suggest, when the ultimate effects of these tiny plastic fibres are unknown, we should veer away. Dr. David Boyd, a lawyer for Ecojustice who resides on Pender Island states our shift back to the tap,
“Tap water is almost always a superior choice both environmentally and economically. Hundreds of cities, responding to pressure from residents, have phased out reduced spending on bottled water. Hundreds of restaurants have introduced similar policies, encouraging customers to drink free tap water instead of expensive bottled water. Vancouver residents exemplify the trend of choosing tap water more often, with bottled water purchases declining from 21 percent to 11 percent of water consumption in the last three years. This is part of a nationwide trend, reported by Statistics Canada, as bottled water consumption is on a steady decline from a peak reached in 2007. Bottled water sales have also fallen in a number of western European countries, but in the US and many developing countries, sales are still rising”
The more we learn about the adverse impacts plastic has on ourselves, our societies, and the planet in which we depend, the more this trend will increase. This trend needs momentum and it needs all of us, so when we drink water from the tap here in Tofino, let it be an exercise for a couple different causes. Let it be a practice in gratitude for the clean and accessible water we have been granted from Meares Island, as our fortune is unfamiliar in many countries in the world, and even within our own borders. Let drinking tap water also be an exercise in rising above single use plastics, which have become one of the most hazardous pollutants on the planet. Let drinking tap water be the literal and figurative start to our journey in standing up for the health of our oceans and freshwater systems that sustain our every moment.
If you think we need more water dispensers in Tofino, or if you’re a business that would like to sponsor a water dispenser, we want to hear from you!