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Local debate spotlights fact: 80% of water's packaging isn't recycled

By: R. SCOTT RAPPOLD
July 1, 2009
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photo - Nestle Waters North America wants to tap natural springs near the Arkansas River for its Arrowhead brand bottled water Photo by Carol Lawrence, The Gazette illustration
Nestle Waters North America wants to tap natural springs near the Arkansas River for its Arrowhead brand bottled water Photo by Carol Lawrence, The Gazette illustration 

Bottled water, once regarded as a healthy alternative to soda by environmentally minded people ranging from yuppies to hippies, no longer has such a crystalline image.

It's the second-most-popular beverage in America, yet environmentalists, some universities and a few cities now shun it because four out of five bottles wind up in landfills.

A water fight is on in Chaffee County, one that shows how far the esteem of bottled water has fallen.

Nestle Waters North America wants to withdraw 65 million gallons of spring water a year for its Arrowhead brand of bottled water from springs near the Arkansas River, a few miles south of Buena Vista. Some in Chaffee County see it as a water grab with no benefit to the community, and hundreds packed several long and contentious public hearings held by the county this spring on Nestle's 1041 land-use permit request. Foes worry the plan could deplete water supplies and increase truck traffic.

County commissioners will discuss, and possibly vote on, the permit today.

A Nestle official says foes' complaints are with bottled water as a whole.

"Most of it has nothing to do with the 1041 or the science. It's their opinions about the end use of the water," said Bruce Lauerman, Nestle's natural-resources manager, a hydrogeologist who travels the West, looking for natural springs the company can tap so it can call its product spring water.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, plastic accounts for 16.9 percent of trash in America, up from 2.6 percent in 1970. Yet just 6.8 percent of the plastic made each year is recycled, the lowest of any commodity. About 80 percent of plastic water bottles end up in the trash.

One of the reasons is that bottled water is often consumed while traveling, when people may not have access to a recycling bin.

"Most of the bottles are not recycled. But even if they were recycled, it's just an unnecessary use of oil to make water bottles," said Judy Schulman, a Colorado Springs recycling advocate who doesn't drink bottled water.

Last year, according to the Beverage Marketing, bottled water accounted for 28.9 percent of beverage sales, second only to soda. In Colorado Springs, tap water goes for less than 1 cent per gallon. A half-liter bottle of water at a convenience store typically costs at least $1.

"It's very frustrating to see that continue, especially when we have such good water here," Schulman said.

Some universities have stopped offering bottled water for sale to students. Cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, have banned the purchase in city offices. In May, the governor of New York signed a similar order for state offices.

The concern is that new bottles aren't made from recycled materials, and even those dropped in recycling bins don't get made into bottles because it is difficult to remake the plastic and not enough are recycled to meet manufacturers' needs.

Most water bottles dropped into recycling bins in Colorado Springs are bundled and sent to China, where they are made into jackets, park benches, plastic lumber and other products. Waste Management sends 375 tons a month of plastic beverage bottles dropped in Colorado recycling bins to China, said company spokeswoman Melissa Kolwaite.

And that is actually much better than Colorado used to do in recycling.

In a state where 12.5 percent of waste is recycled - less than half the national average of 28.5 percent - things are improving.

Last year, single-stream recycling, in which all materials can be dropped in the same bin, came to Colorado Springs.

According to a legislative report on recycling, 89.7 percent of the state's residents have access to curbside recycling, while 7.76 percent have drop-off recycling.

 

 

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