Bottled water backlash: environmental concerns are sending people back to their taps.

Author:Knopper, Melissa
Position:Cover story

Jennifer Phillips always felt guilty that her large Nashville law firm didn't recycle. So after big client meetings, she collected all the empty plastic water bottles, took them home and added them to her own curbside recycling bin. Now, she is proud to report that her firm, Bass, Berry & Sims, serves an icy pitcher of tap water during meetings. "We even have glasses with the company logo on them," she says. Phillips estimates switching to tap keeps 3,000 plastic water bottles per week out of the landfill.


It's a trend that is taking hold in the U.S., Europe and Canada: more people are switching from bottled water to tap. Call it reverse snob appeal. Bottled water once carried a certain European mystique. But these days, it's the tap water enthusiasts, concerned about the environment, who get to act self-righteous. Just like it has become cool to bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store and your own mug to the coffee shop, the reusable water bottle is the hip, new eco accessory.

It's because people like Phillips and David Wilk, a Connecticut book publisher and tap water activist, have started to connect the dots. For Wilk, it happened on the soccer field. After his sons finished their games, he noticed the grass was littered with bottled water and Gatorade empties. Pretty soon, Wilk started showing up with a huge container of tap water. Now all the kids bring their own bottles and fill up when thirsty.

"We have such a consumption mentality, which leads to our throw-away society," says Wilk, who started the website to build more support for public water supplies and to cut down on the amount of plastic going into landfills. "I think the cost of our behavior should be built into the products," Wilk says.

A Gathering Revolt

In Canada, the bottled water issue has become, as Wilk says, an "uprising." College students are staging protests--declaring "bottled water-free zones" on campus. High school activists are raising questions about why their school board members are locking them into a contract with Coke or Pepsi (makers of Aquafina and Dasani bottled water) when they have access to drinking fountains for free. Some students have jokingly started to sell bottled air for $1.

In an even bolder move, the United Church of Canada asked its three million members to consider banning bottled water during meetings and events. "We just had a lot of concerns about governance and accountability," says Julie Graham, who leads the anti-bottled water campaign for a Toronto ecumenical activist group called Kairos...

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