Friday, December 12, 2008

TORONTO LEADS WORLD ON SWITCH FROM BOTTLED WATER

Tony Clarke, Toronto Star - Toronto's decision to ban the sale and distribution of bottled water on city premises was a watershed moment for water justice advocates the world over. What was truly significant about Toronto's action was not that it banned an environmentally destructive product, but that it included a commitment to ensuring access to tap water in all city facilities.

Toronto is now the largest city in the world to pass such far-reaching regulations controlling the distribution of bottled water on municipal property and promoting the use of publicly delivered tap water. Other Canadian and American municipalities have enacted policies encouraging the consumption of tap water and limiting the distribution of bottled water using taxpayer money, but none as large as Toronto has taken such a comprehensive approach.

Toronto's action is in many ways the result of a diverse North American public campaign that has successfully raised awareness about bottled water as an unnecessary and wasteful product when the majority of people in Canada and the United States have access to clean drinking water from the tap.

As is often the case, Toronto's initiative had its own elected champions steering it forward. City Councillor Glen De Baeremaeker and Mayor David Miller had the progressive vision to include bottled water in their goal of keeping unnecessary packaging out of city landfills. Their efforts were coupled with a concerted grassroots push by Ontario- based activists, public interest organizations, community and student groups, labour unions and environmental networks.

In the days leading up to the Toronto vote, city councilors faced a barrage of lobbying from the bottled water industry. These frantic attempts to defeat the resolution continued over the two days of debates when the industry brought a battery of lobbyists, corporate executives and industry associations into the council chamber to influence the vote. . . However, their high-priced strategy ultimately failed to influence elected officials, who voted with a two-thirds majority to ban bottled water and reinvest in the public delivery of drinking water.

For many, Toronto has now become the champion of the "Back to the Tap" municipal movement in Canada. To date, this movement has already seen 17 municipalities from five provinces ban the bottle. With 45 others indicating an interest to follow suit, Toronto's leadership will no doubt inspire more municipalities to stand up and speak out in support of public water. To further enable this municipal movement, Toronto City Council also passed a motion to circulate its resolutions and amended staff report to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Regional Public Works Commissioners of Ontario.