Ban the Bottle

Traverse City remains one of Michigan's environmental shining lights – and deservedly so. From our surrounding inland lakes to our pristine rivers to the shores of our bays and Lake Michigan, we stand tall in their protection.

Unfortunately, we do it while wading through the endless litter of thousands of discarded plastic bottles.

It's time our city commissions banned the sale of drinking water in single-serving plastic bottles. It's time for them to exercise environmental leadership. And, wouldn't it be amazing to see the region's county commissions join in?

Last fall, I joined a small group of volunteers from the Trout Unlimited Adam's Chapter to pick up litter along River Road, which happens to crisscross the Boardman River at several points. Were it not for plastic bottle waste, it would have been a pretty easy job. But the sheer number of discarded, empty plastic water bottles was staggering to see.

Without question, the state's failure to place plastic water bottles under its existing deposit law has been a tremendous oversight, creating lazy stewardship and the disincentive to recycle.

Why we "need" these plastic bottles filled with "pure spring water" is not a mystery, the sale of single-serving bottled water is simply one of the great marketing scams in the history of capitalism.

Remember: Evian written backwards spells naïve. And the joke is on us. Other than great marketing, why else would we pay $1.29 for a 16-ounce bottle of water, which most likely is re-packaged municipal tap water with a fancy name like "Ice Mountain"? In fact, have you ever been to Ice Mountain? Consider too, if you calculate what a gallon of 16-ounce single-serving bottled water costs if you purchased a gallon's worth. At 128 ounces in a gallon – your total would be $10.32! And we grouse at $4.00 a gallon gas?

Our naïveté is staggering – especially if you consider the New York Times' estimate that we consume 30 billion single-serving containers of bottled water a year. Or that every hour we throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles (Clear Water Florida).

Aside from being the brunt of a bad marketing joke, the public also needs to be cognizant of the potential health hazards of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) related chemical compositions of these plastic water bottles. Like Bisphenol A (BPA) plastic bottles, the health jury remains out on PET bottles' leaching of endocrine disrupters, especially involving prolonged storage and elevated temperatures (Leonard Sax).

Why should we, as a community, continue to be the brunt of the bottled water industries' joke? Why should we be victims of their scam? Why should we pick up their trash?

The cities and villages of the North can stand up to this scam and preserve its citizens' money, environment and health. How? By adopting a simple ordinance and codifying it under chapter 222 and the civil infractions section 202.99 (c) of the administrative code.

Simply stated, it need only to say this: "It shall be unlawful to sell non-sparkling, flavored or unflavored drinking water in single-serving plastic bottles of any chemical composition of 1 liter (34 ounces) or less in the city of [insert your city name here]." The exemption would be for sales occurring subsequent to a declaration of an emergency adversely affecting the availability and/or quality of our municipal drinking water.

Such an ordinance would make a very strong statement. Our community would no longer be the victim of the bottled water industry. Our municipal waters are cheaper, cleaner, and the product of well-run and daily inspected municipal departments funded by our taxes. It's time to hold our glass high – a glass filled with the North's finest.