Ditching Bottled Water to Go Green

Plastic containers and their transport foul the planet, some say.


July 8, 2007 — -- At the venerable Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., customers can indulge in baked quail, grilled squab and wines from around the world.

But if bottled water -- a fine-dining fixture -- is your libation of choice, you're out of luck.

"For us, it's about doing the right thing," said Chez Panisse general manager Michael Kossa-Rienzi, referring to the restaurant's recent decision to serve only filtered tap water.

Watch Eric Horng's report on the criticism of bottled water tonight on "World News." Check local listings for air time.

The eatery is joining a growing list of restaurants kicking the bottle for environmental reasons. And some city governments are getting into the act as well.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom last month signed an executive order prohibiting city departments from buying bottled water, saying the move would save taxpayers money and be good for the planet.

"Each year, people are drinking 30 billion throwaway bottles of water," said the Sierra Club's Ruth Caplan. "If you put them end to end, it would go around the world more than 150 times."

Caplan said four out of five plastic water bottles end up in landfills, but even before they get there, they've taken a toll on the environment.

To get to a store shelf in Chicago, for instance, a bottle of water from France must first travel more than 5,000 miles on ships and in trucks. And because water is heavy, transporting it requires a lot of fuel.

ABC News crunched the numbers -- taking into account mileage and fuel requirements -- and found that even before you drink that one-liter (or a 33.8 ounce) bottle of French water in Chicago, you've already consumed roughly 2 ounces of oil. And that doesn't include the oil used to make the plastic.

In addition, the entire process -- bottling, packaging and shipping -- creates pollution and greenhouse gases.

"It's ironic that on some of the labels of the bottles, you see snow-capped mountains and glaciers when in fact the production of the bottle is contributing to global warming, which is melting those snowcaps and those glaciers," said Allen Hershkowitz at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

By contrast, tap water is delivered using little or no oil. New York City's water, for instance, flows by force of gravity.

But the International Bottled Water Association, a trade group representing the bottled water industry, bristles at the bottle versus tap comparison.

"Consumers choose bottled water as a beverage alternative or a beverage option to other packaged beverages," said IBWA spokesman Stephen Kay. "They're not choosing bottled water uniformly over tap water."

Kay said the bottled water industry has, actually, been a good steward of the environment by actively promoting recycling and introducing lighter and even biodegradable plastics. Some brands also donate a portion of sales to water projects in developing countries.

"Bottled water is one of thousands of food and beverage products packaged in plastic and shipped," said Kay. "To single out bottled water ... is really to miss an opportunity to engage in a comprehensive dialogue and take all-inclusive action to protect and sustain the environment."

At Chez Panisse, Kossa-Rienzi said the switch to tap water had met with little resistance but added that a few customers do miss the bottled stuff.

"I kind of jokingly said, 'Well, call me when you're coming in, and I'll run across the street to the supermarket,'" said Kossa-Rienzi.

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