Editorial #6 – Cry me a bottle

What came first, the breakdown of every water fountain in the school, or the introduction of vending machines and Sodexo selling us water at $1.75 a bottle? After four years of never seeing a single fountain on campus in usable, working order, I’m inclined to wonder whether the chicken and the egg are conspiring to screw me out of my bar change.

Bottled water is a ridiculous industry. Regular bottled water ranges from about 50 cents a bottle to three or four dollars to drink what the kids on the OC drank. That’s not even taking into account the “designer” water now available – and here I was thinking that the last major innovation in water was, well, water.

Does your car run on water? You’d better hope not – at two bucks per litre, Nestle will be the next ExxonMobil before long. For the discerning vehicle, there will be premium mineral water, fresh from a spring in Tahiti where the hardworking indigenous people’s rich, ethnic culture is kept at a safe distance, so as not to disturb the unique balance of hydrogen and oxygen.

Speaking of oil, though, the relationship is even closer than some sad, hypothetical scenario: to produce, package and deliver 591 mL of the same thing that comes out of your hose, it takes over a quarter of that bottle in oil.

Why do people drink bottled water? For some, it just tastes better. But in a blind taste test conducted last year in the Bloomfield Centre, students (including myself) picked tap water just as often as bottled water. Other people will say it’s safer – but when was the last time someone got dysentery from drinking Antigonish water? For anyone that concerned with safety, his or her bottle should come with a lifejacket.

Thankfully, the recent recession in combination with the movement towards greener lifestyles does not bode well for the bottled water industry. Canadians not only can afford to buy less dihydrogen oxide, but can also feel more of the environmental pressure they exert with the unnecessary emissions from the plastic and transportation associated with it. Only a decade ago people were marveling at the marketing achievement that is bottled water; now, many of us marvel at the fact that it exists at all.

At least one campus in Canada – University of Winnipeg – has put a ban on the sale of bottled water. Students there are now faced with three options: bring a reusable bottle from home, drink from the fountain, or find their own way to get that sweet, sweet Aquafina. Dalhousie last year considered a similar ban, and just recently it was banned from Halifax City Hall.

At the moment, it may not be possible to implement such a ban at StFX – after all, there is hardly a working water fountain to be found outside the Millenium Centre. But why isn’t there? We need to put pressure on those who maintain our campus to keep tap water readily available, at least for those who don’t want to pay PepsiCo for something that falls from the sky and runs from the tap for free.

It’s not just about the economics, and the absurdity of the idea as a whole – although we are probably going to look stupid in retrospect for having thought that having competing brands of water was a good idea. What’s more important is that if we don’t take care to keep tap water available, this erosion of faith in our water supply might one day lead to an actual decrease in the quality of our water supply, as consumer emphasis is placed on a packaged, stamped and sold form of a Canadian resource increasingly envied the world over

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