6 Communities Where Nestlé Bottled Water Plans Are Under Fire
By Daniel Ross
With much of North America still in the grips of a drought going back years, managing dwindling drinking water resources is a pressing topic. And in a year when bottled water sales in the U.S. are expected to exceed soda sales for the first time, Nestlé Waters—a water-for-profit poster child that dominates the bottled water industry, with multiple operations across the U.S. and Canada—is at the front lines of numerous battles being waged in local communities across North America.
Nestlé Waters is at the front lines of numerous battles being waged in local communities across North America.
In recent years, a number of Nestlé's plants have come under heightened scrutiny for all sorts of environmental and legal reasons, like the matter of where all the waste plastic ends up. Plastic bottles are one of the biggest sources of trash in national parks, and parks that have enacted bans have seen a significant reduction in their total waste stream. All the while, water companies like Nestlé have been currying political favors through donations to successfully push back against a wholesale federal ban on the sale of bottled water in national parks.
For Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental nonprofit based in Tucson, the privatization of water resources is a cause for great concern, "especially the amount of profit in this bottled water phenomenon," she said. "They're basically just taking tap water, putting it into bottles and charging us a lot of money for it. Whereas really, it should be available for all humans to use."
According to some estimates, customers nationwide end up paying between 300 to 2,000 times more for bottled water than for tap water.
Here's a look at six places in the U.S. and Canada where Nestlé's bottled water plans are under fire.
1. Ontario, Canada
A nearly decade-long struggle by campaigners against Nestlé's bottled water operations in Ontario has reached a watershed, with the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change recently announcing a two-year moratorium on new water-taking permits, which includes the bottled water sector.
Boycott Launched After Nestlé Outbids Drought-Stricken Town to Buy Well for Bottled Water via @EcoWatch https://t.co/4FmNDKLz1Z— Sunnydays (@Sunnydays)1475571793.0
This means that—pending new permitting regulations—Nestlé can still operate under its expired permit in Aberfoyle and draw some 3.6 million liters of water per day from an aquifer that is soon expected to additionally support the nearby City of Guelph. Water levels in the aquifer are reported to have dropped in recent years.
Nestlé's water-taking permit is also up for renewal next year in Hillsburgh, where the company is allowed to draw about 1.1 million liters of water per day. Again, as a result of the moratorium, the company is unable to perform vital pump tests at a well recently acquired in Centre Wellington.
"These permits are located in highly water stressed areas," said Mike Nagy, chair of Wellington Water Watchers, an environmental nonprofit in Guelph. Nagy said that proposed regulations require water-taking permits to prove and factor-in a variety of considerations, including their benefit for future generations, their accumulative impacts, as well as the effects from population growth and climate change.
"Nestlé likes to argue that it only takes a small percentage from the watershed, but that's a smokescreen," said Nagy. "What they're actually doing is taking a lot of water from very small areas. In Aberfoyle, for example, they're very big users."
2. San Bernardino, California
While Nestlé's critics have made headway in Ontario, campaigners in Southern California have hit a wall. Last year, a Desert Sun investigation revealed how Nestlé had been drawing water from Strawberry Creek, in the San Bernardino Mountains, using a permit that had expired 28 years prior.
Nestlé Can Keep Piping Water Out of Drought-Stricken California Despite Permit Expiring in 1988 via @EcoWatch https://t.co/0igYxJX94h— Doug Marr (@Doug Marr)1474831685.0
A group of environmental organizations subsequently filed a lawsuit arguing that the Forest Service had, for the duration of Nestlé's expired permit, illegally allowed Nestlé to pipe water from the creek for miles over National Forest land. Last year alone, Nestlé drew some 36 million gallons of water from Strawberry Creek, paying just $524 a year for the permit. But this past September, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Forest Service.
All the while, Strawberry Creek, a perennial waterway, has been running dry, said Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the Courage Campaign, a California-based progressive grassroots advocacy group. "It's way below what it needs to be to be healthy to sustain the environment and the flora and fauna, and it only continues to get worse," he said. "The rains we had last winter didn't impact this area at all, and so, it's not like things are on the upswing."
The legal wranglings are far from over, however. The State Water Resource Control Board, which operates under the authority of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is believed to be reviewing Nestlé's water rights to Strawberry Creek. The Forest Service is conducting an environmental review of Nestlé's new permit application. And Courage Campaign attorney Rachel Doughty said in an email to AlterNet that an appeal of the district court's decision is "anticipated."
3. Cascade Locks, Oregon
A ballot measure that could have opened the door for Nestlé to open a commercial bottling plant in Hood River County, Oregon, was overwhelmingly rejected by voters this past May. But the door is still left ajar.
The proposed plant would tap water from Oxbow Springs, in the town of Cascade Locks, the residents of which voted in favor of the project. It is the only precinct in the county to do so. Over the next few years, if a complicated transfer of water rights unfolds with Cascade Locks eventually claiming control of Oxbow Springs, then it's feasible that Nestlé could see its plans in Oregon come to fruition.
"If Nestlé gets in and gets water from Cascade Locks, then Nestlé has successfully compromised and corrupted the state," said Kathleen Fitzgerald of the Local Water Alliance, a group of Hood River County residents campaigning to protect the local water supply from bottled water companies.
Proponents of the project have said that the environmental impacts from the proposed plant at Oxbow Springs, in the Columbia River Gorge, will be offset by the some 50 jobs created in an area with high unemployment. Fitzgerald argues differently.
The plant has the potential to affect water levels in a nearby sanctuary, vital for migrating salmon seeking cool water, some of which remain there for months at a time, she said. "And the Columbia River is the second most endangered river in the U.S.," she added. "It's already compromised by dams and by [pollution] … Taking more water from it would only stress it even further."
4. Stanwood, Michigan
A near decade-long dispute between Nestlé and environmental campaigners was resolved in 2009 when the bottled water company agreed to nearly halve the amount of water it drew from a spring that fed the nearby Dead Stream and Thompson Lake watersheds, after it was determined that Nestlé's operations adversely impacted their ecologies and water levels.
Nestlé Plans Dramatic Expansion of Water Privatization in Michigan via @EcoWatch https://t.co/mt7bLEclUm @ErinBrockovich @mmflint #flint— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1478111891.0
A little over seven year later, however, the reverse is happening. Nestlé is attempting to more than double the permitted amount of water it can pump from another spring in a nearby county that local environmentalists say feeds bodies of water equally as threatened as those involved in the 2009 lawsuit.
"They're being impacted already," said Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. "They're drawing down two cold-water streams. There's already no trout left in one of them—they were trout streams—and there are places where it's dry already."
Nestlé is looking to increase its permitted water drawing capacity from 150 gallons a minute to 400 gallons. Though last year, the company began drawing 250 gallons per minute from the well without any permit needing to be issued. It's all part of a $36 million dollar expansion of Nestlé's bottling plant in Stanwood, which is expected to create 20 new jobs.
"Nestlé's making a huge profit out of this water at the same time that there are people in Flint and Detroit who don't have water," said Case. "It's just criminal."
5. Sacramento, California
In March and December of last year, campaigners formed a human barricade around the entrances to Nestlé's bottled water plant in Sacramento, in an attempt to hold the plant hostage for the day. Their main complaint: Nestlé's permit to bottle some 80 million gallons of water a year in one of America's most drought-stricken regions.
Nestlé bought 52.9 million gallons from the capital's municipal water supply in 2015—less than one percent of total water demand within the city, argues Nestlé. The company also sourced approximately 32.4 million gallons in 2015 from five separate springs in the northern part of the state. On its website, Nestlé writes how it conducts regular monitoring of these springs, looking at things like recharge, water withdrawal and water levels. Robert Saunders of the Crunch Nestlé Alliance, an activist group that impaired operations at Nestlé's Sacramento bottling plant in in March 2015 and October 2014, disputes these claims.
He points to NASA data showing parts of the San Joaquin Valley sinking by nearly 2 inches every month due to the over-pumping of underground aquifers—as well as the reduction in water levels of Strawberry Creek—as proof that Nestlé's monitoring programs don't work. "People don't understand, aquifers don't come back," said Saunders, who himself was a link in last year's human barricades. "You drain them significantly, they don't recharge."
6. Phoenix, Arizona
Next spring will mark the unveiling of Nestlé's bottled water plant in Phoenix. According to Nestlé, the plant will buy (at the same rate as metered commercial water users) some 35 million gallons of water each year from the state capital—less than one percent of the city's total water usage. The company says the plant will also create between 40 and 50 new jobs.
Phoenix draws its water from four main sources, including Arizona's Salt and Verde rivers, as well as from a diversion in the Colorado River, which snakes down through Arizona from Lake Mead. Because of water levels in the lake reaching record lows and the ongoing drought parching the west, campaigners argue that even though the city has water reserves that can act as a cushion during dry periods, the city still needs to be vigilant with its water.
While Nestlé has made a lot of enemies in several North American communities, it's worth noting that the company isn't the only one that taps local water resources to support its business model. Sarah Porter is the director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute. While she is a critic of the bottled water industry, she believes it's wrong to point the finger squarely at Nestlé.
"This is a manufacturing operation like many other manufacturing operations in the valley that use water," she said. "Some of these businesses will use a lot more water than the Nestlé bottled water plant will. Nobody is looking into that. Nobody's looking into the craft beer companies and all kinds of other water-using businesses."
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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By Zheng Chen and Darren H. S. Tan
As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.