British Columbians giving bottled water the boot

March 19, 2013. 12:30 pm: The Vancouver Sun 

British Columbians are increasingly turning to tap water for their daily needs and giving bottled water the boot.

BC'ers are turning away from drinking bottled water
BC’ers are turning away from drinking bottled water

Only 11 per cent of households in B.C. choose bottled for their primary source of drinking water, compared with 22 per cent of all Canadian households, according to data released Monday by Statistics Canada.

While bottled water is dropping in popularity across the country, British Columbia recorded the biggest drop of any province, more than 50 per cent. Nearly one in four households primarily drank bottled water in 2007, compared with about one in 10 in 2011, the last year for which data are available.

“I think people are running out of excuses for drinking bottled water, especially on the Lower Mainland,” said City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, chairman of Metro Vancouver’s utilities committee.

Metro Vancouver’s new $820-million water filtration plant is 97 per cent complete. The final phase of the project — a pipeline to connect the summer-used Capilano reservoir to the filtration plant — will be completed within 14 months. UV filters for water from the Coquitlam reservoir will be installed by the end of 2013.

“When those projects are complete we will have the best drinking water of any place in the world,” Mussatto said. “I say that without hesitation; the water that is now being produced from the Seymour — and soon from the Capilano and Coquitlam Reservoirs — will be unequalled.”

Water passing through the plant is filtered through anthracite sand to remove fine particles then treated with UV light to kill micro-organisms and finally chlorinated to keep the water free of bacteria as it passes through the regions network of pipes.

Mystifyingly, the number of Metro Vancouver residents who cited safety or health as their reason for choosing bottled over tap water rose from 19 per cent to 33 per cent between August 2008 and January 2011, according to a poll of 800 people conducted for Metro Vancouver.

Most of the people who prefer bottled water cite convenience (38 per cent) or taste (30 per cent).

“There is absolutely no reason for anyone to buy bottled water in the Lower Mainland. If you want convenience, buy a reusable bottle and fill it with tap water,” Mussatto said.

Metro Vancouver encourages people to drink tap water rather than bottled through a variety of public awareness campaigns, including a smartphone app called Tap Map that locates drinking fountains and local businesses and restaurants that will refill reusable water bottles, and the Tap Water Team, Metro employees who hand out water samples from the Metro Vancouver Water Wagon at community events and festivals through the summer months.

A 2010 waste audit estimated that 500 tonnes of plastic water bottles enter the 1-million tonne waste stream each year in Metro Vancouver.

A campaign to rid the University of B.C. campus of bottled water is gaining traction, according to student campaigner Veronika Bylicki, a first-year science student.

Members of the group Bottled Water Free UBC collected more than 3,200 signatures on a petition calling for an end to bottled water sales and received an endorsement for their efforts from the Alma Mater Society student government.

After meeting with senior administrators, the group believes the university will set a date to rid the campus of bottled water.

“First we have to increase the bottle water alternatives on campus, then we can start to reduce supply,” said Bylicki.

About one year ago, Vancouver Island University became the first university in B.C. to ban bottled water sales, a year-long process that included increasing the number of water fountains on campus.

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