Council rejects request for ban on bottled water

Packages of bottled water sit inside a Prince Albert business during the 2016 water crisis. -- Herald file photo.

Mayor Greg Dionne says the City of Prince Albert has no plans to outright ban the sale of bottled water from municipal buildings, although that may change in the future.

The topic was the subject of a short debate at Monday’s executive committee meeting after a request made by the Council of Canadians’ Prince Albert chapter.

The Council of Canadians wants Prince Albert to become a Blue Community, which would require them to ban the sale of bottled water at city events and buildings. However, Dionne said an outright ban won’t work, and instead asked for patience as the city phases in several refill stations and phases out bottled water.

“(Bottled water) is a demand that the general public wants,” Dionne said during an interview on Monday. “It’s a convenience that they want and you heard the other argument: it’s better than drinking pop. It’s a no win situation.”

The City of Prince Albert has slowly started to phase out the use of bottled water at municipal events. In 2017, council voted to stop using bottled water at City Council meetings. The city has also begun replacing water fountains with refill stations, like the ones they installed last year at the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse and Prime Minister’s Park.

Dionne said progress may be slow, but those efforts will be more effective than an outright ban. He suggested things might go quicker if other levels of government got involved, either by banning single use plastics, as Ontario is considering, or by taxing the purchase. A big problem appears to be that people would rather pay for bottled water than use refill stations at facilities like the Art Hauser Centre for free.

“If the government wants to get rid of bottled water, do what they do with liquor. Make it a sin tax, and the bottle’s now $5,” he said. “Then maybe I might go to the fountain.”

Dionne received some support for his call for patience on Monday. Some representatives like Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick, said people will eventually change their habits if given incentive to do so. However, Ogrodnick also cautioned ban supporters against forcing people to change, arguing that residents would make the right decision if given enough time.

“Change is a process, not an event,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “We are slowly changing. As Mayor Dionne said, you add the fillable stations, people will eventually change. You can’t force them to change. That’s a revolution, when you force them to change, and that’s not what we want.”

However, not all city council members are ready to be so patient. Some, like Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky, argued that Prince Albert should be leaders on the issue, and said he was prepared to support the Council of Canadians and vote for an outright ban.

Others, like Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody, said the city kept selling water because it was profitable, and added that perhaps they should reconsider their priorities and become more proactive.

“We sell it for another reason too, and that’s to make a buck,” Cody said. “It’s not just for convenience. I’m just wondering which comes first: making profits or making things better for our community.”

The City of Prince Albert plans to continue replacing water fountains with refill stations, with the goal of making it cheaper and more convenient for residents to bring their own water bottles instead of purchasing bottled water.

In 2009, the town of Bundanoon, Australia became the first community to ban selling water in single-sue plastic bottles. The town of Concord, Mass. became the second in 2013. Since then, numerous schools, universities, communities and public events have also banned the use or sale of bottled water.

The use of bottled water is governed by Health Canada, which states bottled water can become contaminated with bacteria through improper handling and storage. However, the organization also says the bottled water sold in Canada has “generally found to be of good quality and is not considered to pose any health hazard.”

Roughly 85 per cent of all bottled water sold in Canada comes from companies who are members of the Canadian Bottled Water Association (CBWA). The CBWA argues that companies have begun using thinner and lighter water bottles made from biodegradable materials to help reduce waste and increase recycling. The organization also argues that people purchase bottled water as an alternative to soft drinks, energy drinks, juice or milk, and not because they dislike tap water.

Environmental groups like the Council for Canadians argue that there is a huge environmental cost to bottle water. However, on Monday, their main focus was on public benefits versus private ownership.

Council representative Nancy Carswell said water is a shared resource that should be available for everyone, and not in the hands of private corporations. She’s worried increasing the use of bottled water will lead to a water shortage.

“Water can not be ‘business as usual,’” Carswell said during a short presentation on Monday. “We all need to preserve waters as a commons, and we need to reverse any present enclosure. We ask that you become a full Blue Community and ban bottled water at facilities and events where tap water is available.”