This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

May-June 2009

“Environmentally friendly” bottled water? No such thing

Heather Kohlmann

More recyclable, sure, but that doesn't make it "green"

More recyclable, sure, but that doesn't make it "green"

The Claim:

Nestlé Waters Canada says its bottled water is a “healthy, eco-friendly choice” and, feeling so confident about this claim, ran an ad in the October 20, 2008, issue of the Globe and Mail stating that its “bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world.” [See the ad here — PDF, 700kb]

The Investigation:

At first glance, there might be something to Nestlé Waters Canada’s claim: It’s made major cuts to its material usage—30 percent less plastic, 20 percent fewer paper labels, 65 percent less corrugate—and plans to make further reductions this year. The company claims to have the “lightest plastic beverage container in the industry,” says John Challinor, director of corporate affairs. And Nestlé Waters Canada and its partners fund nearly 50 percent of Canada’s recycling programs.

But recycling still produces five to 10 percent of the energy used to make new plastic. And due to health regulations, these bottles can only be recycled as non-food products such as carpets, fleece shirts, and blue boxes, rather than as new beverage bottles. Then there’s the fact that one plastic bottle takes anywhere from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. According to Nestlé Waters’ own claims, in Ontario that’s where about 40 percent of water bottles end up.

“Nestlé is trying to spin the bottle by declaring it eco-friendly, when the fact of the matter is there is no green solution for bottled water” says Joe Cressy of the Polaris Institute. Frustrated, his group teamed up with the Council of Canadians, Ecojustice and others to file a complaint with Advertising Standards Canada against Nestlé’s Globe ad.

The Verdict:

That complaint was dismissed for violation of confidentiality after the groups sent out a press release in December 2008, but environmentalists don’t need to hear ASC’s opinion to reject Nestlé’s claims. Says Meera Karunananthan, national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, “When the carbon footprint of drinking out of your tap is zero, you can’t deny that the environmental impact of bottled water is more harmful.”

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