Defending the right to water a bottle at a time

Posted on Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Celeste holding her H2Ottawa bottle in front of a live foliage wall

By Laura Darche

When Celeste Digiovanni was making her way to her first course in environmental sociology, a bit late and thirsty, she discovered that the University of Ottawa has not sold bottled water on campus since 2010. Irked that such an ubiquitous commodity was not available and trying to understand why, she discovered that bottled water is a human rights issue and embodies major environmental and financial costs. She then understood the University’s decision — but still, bottled water comes in handy! So she came up with a portable, sustainable and economical alternative: the H2Ottawa bottle.

“My limited access to portable water was a small frustration compared to the complicated and -often times- life-threatening global and local(!) issues surrounding water rights.” – Celeste Digiovanni

A different kind of bottle

Made of infinitely recyclable aluminum, sold in vending machines at the same price as a disposable water bottle, refillable at the many campus water fountains, and reusable, the H2Ottawa is as practical and accessible as a plastic bottle, but without the environmental, economic and social impact. You can find it in vending machines, listed here. The bottle has also been sponsored by Desjardins for Alumni week last May and will be sold at the Bluesfest.

The University of Ottawa, a pioneer among Canadian universities on this issue, is one of 80 North American universities and colleges that have banned bottled water on their campuses1. The ban was a way for it to be consistent with its commitment to sustainable development and reduce waste. The H2Ottawa project received a positive response from University employees who had the opportunity to support Celeste through her process.

 Canadians and potable water

83% say it should be a high priority for government funding, 93% believe is a human right, 71% agree it should not be owned, bought and sold, 77% worry about shortage without good conservation habits. Source: 2017 RBC Water Attitudes Study.

“I think this is a perfect example of innovation. It’s homegrown, it mixes research with action, and it does all of that while actually contributing to making a better campus.” Jonathan Rausseo, campus sustainability manager at uOttawa.

Access to water: a basic right

Canadians, who mostly have unlimited access to drinkable tap water, have a tendency to take it for granted. After all, Canada has 20% of the world’s fresh water. However, the country only has 7% of the world’s renewable drinking water, which is a rare resource around the world2. Globally, with population growth, world demand for water will exceed available resources by 40% in 20303.

A lot of bottled water comes from rural areas without public water treatment systems and is sold in cities to people who already pay for running water. For Celeste, this is the tip of an even bigger issue, that of water privatization. Drinking water, as a vital, irreplaceable resource, can’t be treated like any other natural resource. Water privatization, which generates profits for private enterprise ($2.5 billion a year just in Canada4), doesn’t further consideration of access to drinking water as a protected human right.

So the next time you’re thirsty and don’t have a bottle on hand, go to one of the campus vending machines and grab your first H2Ottawa bottle. You’ll be contributing to a cleaner planet and taking a stand in favour of the basic right to water!

Sources

  1. Ban the bottle
  2. Government of Canada - Water: Frequently asked questions
  3. Barlow, Maude. (2013) Blue Future. New York: The New Press.
  4. The Globe and Mail - Stuck on the bottle
  5. Feldman, David Lewis. (2012) Water. Massachusetts : Polity Press.
  6. Gleick, Peter. (2010) Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. Washington, DC: Island Press.
  7. Strategy for a waste-free Ontario, Building the circular Economy [PDF 6.3 MB]
  8. Estimated assuming a student would buy one bottle of water every day on campus. Jonathan Rausseo, campus sustainability manager, University of Ottawa (2015 interview).
  9. City of Ottawa - Water Purification, quality and delivery
  10. Government of Canada - Bottled water
  11. CBC news - Microplastics found in 93% of bottled water tested in global study

Why ban bottled water — by the numbers

For the Earth

  • 4 out of 5 bottles aren’t recycled5
  • 3 to 4 litres of drinking water are needed to produce the plastic for a 1 litre bottle6
  • 53 million barrels of oil (estimated) were used to produce water bottles in the U.S. in 20076

For our finances

  • Bottled water is 1,000 times more expensive than tap water6
  • 78% increase in waste management costs in Canada between 2004 and 20127
  • $400 is spent annually per student on bottled water (estimated)8

For our health

  • 100,000 safety tests were carried out annually on tap water by the city of Ottawa9
  • 0 water tests required of bottlers (bottled water is regulated as a food)10
  • 10.4 plastic particles on average per litre (particles found in 93% of bottles of water)11
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