Ban Water Bottles from LA Supervisors

It’s not just the label, but the bottle itself that is the problem.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the front page March 31, 2009, that Los Angeles County Supervisors sip from custom-label water bottles.

As the Times puts it:  “Every week, a college student who earns $9.92 an hour for a range of tasks peels the labels off water bottles, uses a computer to print out new ones emblazoned with the county seal and slaps them on. The customized bottles are waiting for the five supervisors as they take on the official business of the nation’s most populous county.”

The labels are there for a reason: to avoid having the brand name of the water being visible during TV broadcasts of meetings. The cost of printing and affixing the labels is just a drop in the bucket, say officials.

But the Times missed the real story. What is troublesome about the supervisors using custom bottled water isn’t that they re-labeled the bottles, but that they drink from them at all. Single-serve water bottles wreak harm on the planet. Not only are they an extremely expensive way to drink water, they also have a huge environmental cost. The production, transportation and distribution of bottles wastes energy and contributes to global warming, and a state study shows that they are rarely recycled. And here’s a secret: the water in many brands is in fact just tap water in disguise. The profit margin on bottled water is huge.

The solution: Each supervisor should have a refillable container. There are plenty on the market, and many companies offer custom designs. Instead of the county seal, the supervisors could label their water containers with a slogan like “This is not a plastic bottle” to give a free commercial for environmentally responsible behavior.

(I’ve even designed a label for them. Anyone can download it for free for personal use. I’ve also designed a more accurate label for them to put on single-use plastic bottles, if they decide to stick with those.)

Last year for Earth Day I started a campaign at our elementary school to educate kids about making choices that help the planet. One of them was to stop using plastic water bottles. Once you find a refillable container you like, it’s not that hard to use it.

Here’s some facts I shared with the students that came from the California Department of Conservation report done a few years ago:

Only 16 percent of water bottles in California are recycled.

More than 1 billion water bottles wind up in the trash in California each year.

They swallow landfill space or increase air pollution when they are incinerated.

It takes thousands of years for plastic to decompose in landfills.

And according to another study

Bottled water can be between 240 and 10,000 times more expensive than tap water

In 2005, sales in the United States alone generated more than $10 billion in revenue.

Global consumption of bottled water more than doubled between 1997 and 2005, securing the product’s place as the world’s fastest-growing commercial beverage.

In tough economic times, maybe bottled water is the indulgence to lose.  According to a Fast Company, article written about a couple years ago, the industry, which barely existed 30 years ago, is growing like crazy.

“Last year, we spent more on Poland Spring, Fiji Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani than we spent on iPods or movie tickets–$15 billion. It will be $16 billion this year.”

A couple years ago, the city of San Francisco banned the use of city funds to purchase single-serve water bottles.  The city of LA was supposed to stop spending city dollars on bottled water as well. But according to an audit released last week, the the city of LA spent nearly $185,000 last year on bottled water.

Come on, So Cal!

Let’s just do the right thing.  Save money and the environment.  Ban public funds on the water bottles.  And each of us should use refillable containers as well.  I made the switch, and you can, too.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Update: The Times now reports that public uproar over the use of single-serve plastic bottles has caused the LA County supervisors to change to paper cups and tap water.

Related posts:
Why I Now Love Scratchy Toilet Paper

How to Run a Terracycle Campaign at School

I designed the “Fill It Up” photo illustration and water bottle labels above in Photoshop to encourage consumers to use refillable water containers. Feel free to download them for personal use under the Creative Commons license. If you use my design, please do not alter it (keep my credit on it). If you distribute, you must attach a copy of the license to it with the same conditions. Thanks.

By the way, some of my eco designs are now available on tote bags (a great alternative to plastic shopping bags) at printfection, a great custom print place that has a money-back guarantee.

Let me know what you think by commenting below. Show your support by “digging” this post. Just click the digg button above.

Great little video on youtube showing the stupidity of plastic water bottles.