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Rather than vilify bottled water, scale back recycling programs

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Rather than vilify bottled water, scale back recycling programs

Op-ed in The Post Standard

Gov. David A. Paterson has jumped on the anti-bottled water
bandwagon by issuing an executive order halting state-agency purchases
of bottled water claiming to save money and the environment. Cheers to
the idea of actually saving taxpayers some money! But let’s be honest
about one thing: That is not what this crusade is really about.

New
York follows the lead of several other states and cities that have
suddenly deemed bottled water a new “sin” industry. Chicago imposed a
tax, Toronto banned it in government buildings, and Salt Lake has
denied it to firefighters at fires!

In 2007, New York City
spent $700,000 to promote tap water over bottled water. Earlier this
year, Councilors Eric Gioia and Simcha Felder announced legislation to
bar city agencies from buying bottled water.
Now Paterson has taken the issue statewide. Agencies may no longer
provide bottled water to workers, either via 5-gallon jugs for coolers
or single-serving containers.

These
“ban-the-bottle” efforts have been led by environmental activists who
don’t like private sale of water. They claim consumers who enjoy the
convenience of bottled water have an oversized environmental footprint.

Not surprisingly, New York lawmakers are promising more than they can
deliver. For example, in his call to remove water coolers and plastic
bottles, Gioia notes: “Americans buy 28 billion single-serving water
bottles each year, 80 percent of which end up in landfills.”

Yet
at least some of the water found in city agencies is delivered in
5-gallon plastic bottles, few of which ever enter the landfill. These
bottles are reused, on average, 35 to 50 times, then recycled. They
actually represent a private-sector environmental/recycling success
story.
The replacement products which demand the use of filters will send
waste to the landfill. The water-filtering devices that the legislation
would employ require regular maintenance and repairs. And failure to
change filters can produce quality problems with tap water, too.

It
is preposterous to claim that banning government purchases of
single-serve bottle would matter significantly in terms of solid waste.
Plastic water bottles amount to a measly 0.3 percent of trash
nationally. Government agencies likely contribute a tiny fraction of
that. In fact, absent bottled water as an option, many workers will
likely bring their own or drink other bottled drinks. Much of the
increase in bottled water consumption over the past decades has
replaced drinking of sugared or caffeinated drinks rather than tap
water.

If New York officials are genuinely interested in
saving money, they should consider scaling back recycling programs,
many of which unlike private-sector recycling of the 5-gallon water
jugs are very inefficient.
In 2007, the New York Independent Budget Office reported that New York
City was spending 23 percent more to recycle waste than it would cost
to dispose of it. It also spends $6 million annually to “educate”
citizens on sorting recyclables. But markets for recyclables are very
poor under current economic conditions. As a result, much of the waste
goes to the landfill anyway.

But
the City Council wouldn’t seriously consider curbing this “sacred cow.”
Arbitrary attacks on bottled water are so much easier.

Angela Logomasini is director of risk and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.