Metro Vancouver is declaring victory in its campaign to get more people to shun wasteful bottled water and drink tap water instead.
A new survey has found roughly half as many people using bottled water as did in 2008, when the region set a goal of cutting bottled water use here by 20 per cent by 2010.
The Mustel Group telephone survey found 11 per cent of respondents say they primarily use bottled water, compared to 21 per cent in 2008, while 85 per cent say they mainly use tap water, up from 74 per cent previously.
“We actually got a 50 per cent reduction so it was well beyond what we expected,” said Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt, who sits on Metro’s water committee.
The campaign, which used the slogan “Nature’s health drink – always on tap”, raised the hackles of bottled water sellers.
But Metro politicians like Hunt maintain the campaign was worthwhile because high rates of bottled water use meant unacceptable numbers of plastic bottles were ending up in the landfill.
One report estimated more than 23 million plastic bottles a year weren’t being recycled and were instead ending up in Metro Vancouver landfills – and that even the ones being recycled still carried a heavy carbon footprint.
“The issue was reduction of waste and reduction of the creation of the plastics in the first place so those resources can be used for something much more beneficial,” Hunt said.
Metro officials were also irked by the growing trend toward bottled water use when they had just spent $800 million in taxpayers’ dollars on a major upgrade of the water system.
The region has always maintained its water supply is among the cleanest and safest on the planet.
But completion of the new Seymour-Capilano Filtration Plant – at the recommendation of health officers – means water from the North Shore reservoirs that occasionally looked murky is now being filtered, removing an occasional aesthetic objection.
Hunt noted it also means less chlorine is added to disinfect the water, which was another objection some had about the taste of tap water.
Ninety per cent of those surveyed now agree the tap water quality is excellent or very good – up from 82 per cent before, according to the Metro-commissioned survey.
Bottle users cite convenience, taste, health and safety for their choice.
– 23 per cent drink more tap water than two years ago.
– Two-thirds rarely if ever use public drinking fountains, with residents outside the City of Vancouver most likely to have safety or health concerns about them.
– 84 per cent now agree bottled water has a negative impact on the environment, compared to 76 per cent previously.
The campaign included advertising, social marketing and the launch of an iPhone app to help residents find free locations to refill water bottles with tap water.
Several cities pledged to eliminate bottled water sold in their buildings.
Metro is also spending $200,000 this year to acquire two water wagons that can be taken to major events as a mobile place where people can refill water bottles.
There’s been no talk at Metro of setting a new target to beat bottled water use back further.
“We’ve accomplished the basic essence of what we wanted to do,” Hunt said. “We set a trend going in the opposite direction.”
Despite the survey results, Nestle Waters Canada claimed a five per cent increase in bottled water sales last year, although it had no data specific to Metro Vancouver.
The Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors claims a 10 per cent increase in national bottled water sales, again with no regional breakdown.