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The battle over bottled vs. tap water

After negative media reports on the environmental cost of bottled water, the industry responds with greener strategies.

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She estimates that there may be as many as 100 more such "boycott the bottle" groups at various stages of organization in the US and Canada, with new groups forming monthly. In addition, roughly 12,000 people, mostly college students, have signed a TOTB pledge to not buy bottled water.

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It's enough to make producers of bottled water nervous.

After student groups at Boston College and Vermont's Middlebury College persuaded their schools to terminate lucrative contracts with bottled water companies, their student newspapers received letters from the American Beverage Association (ABA) and Nestlé Waters North America, reminding a generation of new customers that they have worked to improve recycling while keeping an "on-the-go society" hydrated.

But for Tufts students like Daniel, greener efforts may no longer be enough. When she learned that as much as 40 percent of bottled water comes from municipally managed water sources, and not the pristine springs she imagined, she decided to seal the cap once and for all.

"Clearly the ABA is threatened by this movement because they know how powerful college students are," says Lizzie DeWan, a junior at Tufts and cofounder of its TOTB campaign.

The International Bottled Water Asso­ciation shot back at critics in a press release, saying, "To single out this product as any more polluting or dangerous than the thousands of others packaged in plastic is to ignore the fact that today's society demands and relies upon packaged food and drinks."

Money drain for city hall

City and state governments are looking at the economics of banning bottled water. Citing environmental concerns and a misallocation of resources, Los Angeles; San Francisco; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and the state of Illinois have banned the use of public funds to purchase bottled water for city and state functions, while the mayors of Salt Lake City and Minneapolis have strongly urged constituents to opt for tap water instead. In June, the US Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution to bring attention to the negative impact of bottled water and promote local sources.

While critics say such moves will have nearly no effect on the volume of plastic waste, penny-pinching city councils see it as good economics. In each of the two fiscal years prior to the 2007 ordinance, the city government of San Francisco spent just under half a million dollars on bottled water for city employees and functions, despite touting one of the highest-rated tap water sources in the country.

"Considering that an equal amount of municipal water costs about 1/2000th the price of bottled water, it's a very foolish expenditure," says Neva Goodwin, co-director of the Global Development and Environment Institute, a Medford-based research institute.