Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 10, 2012

Editorial: Start moving away from bottled water


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---- — It was always a bridge too far.

But it was a place to start.

Traverse City Mayor Mike Estes had proposed banning the sale of bottled water at major events such as the National Cherry Festival, but it turned out to be more than a lot of people could swallow.

As much as many locals might want to, you can't go from selling thousands of such bottles to none in a single year, particularly when the sale of water is a major revenue source for the festival and a lot of visitors depend on being able to buy water to keep themselves and their kids from dehydrating in the sun.

Estes had proposed banning or limiting the sale of disposable water bottles at festivals and special events and replacing disposable bottles with refillable ones with the city providing free filling stations.

The aim was to reduce the avalanche of bottles that end up all over the place and have to be picked up and recycled at the end of every such event. Estes is a Cherry Festival volunteer who helps pick up the trash and says disposable water bottles are "... the single greatest component of the trash we have now."

While comments at Monday's city commision meeting showed commissioners were divided on the issue, and Estes said he won't pursue it further, that shouldn't necessarily be the end.

While there are plenty of reasons to keep bottled water available to the public, there's no reason the city shouldn't move ahead with efforts to at least reduce their use and move toward a day when a ban makes sense.

A start would be to begin selling reusable bottles — or get a sponsor to underwrite their cost — and for the city to provide free water filling stations at some events, including the Cherry Festival. It would likely be a slow start, but given the number of locals who would support such an effort, it could have an immediate impact.

The aim would be to make the whole idea more palatable to the public and slowly wean festival-goers away from their bottled-water fixation. While the Cherry Festival and other events that count on bottled water revenue would take a hit, their recycling costs would also go down. They could offset those reductions a little more by selling reusable bottles with the festival logo for a nominal amount. And the city could seek someone to underwrite filling stations.

While bottled water isn't going to go away completely, the aim should be to gradually reduce the number of bottles that go into the recycling stream every year.

Changing habits takes time. But you can't change them if you don't start.