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Bottled Water Ban Advances

by | Feb 16, 2011 8:27 am

(22) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall, Environment

Uma Ramiah Photo When a crowd turned out to put an end to bottled water use in New Haven city buildings and schools, one advocate of the change offered government workers their own bottle—minus the imported H20.

“I promise a nice, reusable water bottle with your name on it for any city official who feels inconvenienced by this,” said Aaron Goode, one of a crowd of supporters at City Hall of an initiative that would see New Haven officials and students return to a public good: tap water.

The crowd turned out Tuesday night for a hearing of the Board of Aldermen’s City Services and Environmental Policy Committee.

They came to back a proposal by East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker that would prevent the city from purchasing bottled water en masse for its employees and for use in public schools. The city, Elicker said, spends nearly $32,000 on bottled water a year—a cost that could be greatly reduced by switching to tap water. And that bottled water is trucked in to the city from Worcester, Mass, increasing the environmental impact.

The committee voted unanimously to approve the proposal and send it along to the full Board of Aldermen for approval.

Elicker was first in line to testify Tuesday night.

“Frankly, it’s embarrassing that we use bottled water,” he said. “As if our water wasn’t good enough.”

He came armed with props: a 5-gallon plastic jug of water like the ones City Hall uses, and a garbage bag full of small bottles like the ones used in school cafeterias.

And he had samples. He’d collected Ball jars full of water from fountains in five different New Haven Public Schools. He asked the aldermen on the committee to taste.

“I found them all to be cool and refreshing,” he said.

Elicker and others noted various factors they say make switching to tap water a better option for the city: reduction in cost and waste, a move towards using an existing public service, and the relative health of tap water as compared to bottle water.

A Taste Test

Outside the aldermanic chambers before the meeting, Yale undergraduate students Allison Lazarus and Nathan Yohannes offered passersby a chance at a “Tap Water Challenge.”

Offered tastes of Yale bottled water, Nestle’s Poland Spring, Pepsi’s Aquafina and local tap water, contestants had a tough time distinguishing the difference.

“People haven’t really been able to tell which one is which,” said Yohannes. “Which is what we were hoping for.”

The challenge was organized by a coalition of advocacy groups including Think Outside the Bottle and Corporate Accountability International

Impassioned and Varied Testimonials

Nearly 40 people sat in the audience of the aldermanic chamber as the meeting commenced, representing various groups in support of the ban.

Tom Barger, water quality supervisor and Tom Chaplik, vice president of water quality and outreach for the Regional Water Authority, testified to the quality of New Haven water.

“We have an aggressive monitoring system,” said Barger, who presented findings from a survey done of the water quality of eight municipal buildings in New Haven. Presenting data to the committee, Barger and Chaplik assured aldermen that the quality of water met federal drinking water standards.

Justin Haaheim of Act New Haven, asked the commission to “walk the walk, by governing the city with integrity and foresight.” He noted that the proposal would save money, and reduce New Haven’s carbon footprint.

“There’s a lot of talk about how these bottles can be recycled,” said C.J. May, Yale’s recycling coordinator. “But too many are just thrown out.” He caught the commission’s attention with a few magic tricks: a smoking water bottle (representing the pollution created by trucking bottled water into the city), and a floating bottle. 

If we drink tap water, we won’t have to worry about all that, he said.

Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, a husband and wife team of Yale professors at the Divinity and Forestry schools and co-directors of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, brought an ethical aspect to the testimonials.

“People’s health is really being adversely affected by bottled water,” said Tucker. “This isn’t just a political and economical issue, it’s also ethical.”

“I would just reflect that in the past, people said go overseas and don’t drink the tap water,” she continued. “If that becomes the case here, we’re really going backwards.”

Valerie Fuchs, of the Yale Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, submitted a report to the committee comparing the scientific merits of tap versus bottled water. “Our drinking water is safe,” she said, regulated and checked for pathogens and contamination and required to be disinfected and filtered. Bottled water, on the other hand, is not required to meet the same standards as laid out by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

A high school senior, Robert Kelly, brought seven of his fellow students from Galstonbury High School to support the measure. “Disneyworld doesn’t sell gum,” he said. “Because if they sold gum, they’d find it all over their park.”

In the same way, we find empty bottles all over the world, in our parks and our rivers. The group is working to pass the same ban in Glastonbury.

Rob Smuts, New Haven’s chief administrative officer, expressed his own support for the ban. Then he read a statement from the Board of Education.  Board of Ed Chief Operating Officer Will Clark and Executive Director of Food Services Tim Cipriano were unable to attend the meeting.

“They wanted me to pass on a request to be given an extension to come and testify before the committee on this ban,” said Smuts. He reported that while the Board of Aldermen doesn’t have the authority to tell New Haven schools how to spend money (beyond an annual up-and-down vote on the entire system budget), the Board of Education generally supports the proposal and is willing to work with the Aldermen. He noted concerns about implementation and logistics.

Elicker wasn’t impressed. He said that initially, the Board of Ed responded to his efforts to gain access to schools and statistics. But then, he said, he was told that officials didn’t have time. “Given that I’ve reached out to them and they’ve been unresponsive, I think it might be difficult for the committee to wait for them to have time.”

Committee Concerns

Aldermen expressed some concerns about the proposal. Hill Alderwoman Jacqueline James-Evans wondered how students in schools would access water while in the cafeteria, suggesting that the schools supply pitchers and cups. She also wondered what would happen in case of a water shut-off or contamination. “How will we provide water in that case?” she asked.

Various solutions were floated, from encouraging students to use reusable water bottles and having a back up supply of water for emergencies.

Dixwell Alderman Greg Morehead wondered about the comparative cost of turning to tap water. “Is there a higher cost associated with everyone all of a sudden switching to using water fountains?”

Chaplik of the Regional Water Authority assured him that the cost would be minimal compared to bottled water use. “It would cost pennies per gallon, if that,” he said.

The committee, despite a few concerns, was largely supportive.

“We all grew up in a time before bottled water existed,” he said, “and we survived.” You don’t even need to sell cups in the cafeteria, he said. “Kids can find the fountains on their own.”

What started out as more than 10 aldermen dwindled to four by the end of the commission meeting: but those four put the bottled water ban proposal to a vote. It passed unanimously—and will be put to the larger Board of Aldermen at its March 7 meeting.

“Given the outpouring of support,” said Alderman Matt Smith, “I think it’s important that we don’t hold this up in committee.”

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posted by: HewNaven?? on February 16, 2011  8:49am

Cheers to Elicker and all the supporters, and to all the alderman for getting behind this proposal.

One day, we’ll all look back and chuckle about the days when we used to import bottled water.

Good Riddance!

posted by: Thomas on February 16, 2011  9:20am

“Access to Water?” For the “grown-ups” Buy your own D@#$ water. Parents give the kids a canteen.
Question is if our leaders don’t trust the cities water why are we spending a fortune on the Regional Water Authority to make sure public water is “drinkable.” Tough times mean sacrifices time to take away their bottles.

posted by: Threefifths on February 16, 2011  10:19am

Did any of them read this New York times report.Again you have been sold out by the crooked two party system.

Millions in U.S. Drink Dirty Water, Records Show

Published: December 7, 2009

Hey Joseph and Justin would you drink this.

Check out Connecticut water vampire companies.

And check out Regional Water Authority.


Check out there E.P.A. Violations;=&population=389300&sys_num=0

Thank God I have one of these.

posted by: Swatty on February 16, 2011  10:20am

ya ya ya. Rome burns and we are shutting down a $32,000 problem!

Not to mention the water bottles in the city are reusable.

I would like Justin Elicker and his Yalie cohorts to deal with something more substantial than bottle water. Turn your eyes to the 57 million clams we are looking for!!!

posted by: Resident on February 16, 2011  10:48am

Ya because those plastic solo cups are much better for the environment…

posted by: ummmm on February 16, 2011  10:50am

i think this is a good idea in theory, but i really don’t trust new haven’s water supply.  it smells like chlorine half the time, and did we all forget when it was brown and completely undrinkable for 3 or more days last summer?

if this goes through, can we agree to commit all the money saved to putting water filtration systems in the schools?

posted by: Whatawaste! on February 16, 2011  12:35pm

What a joke! Millions in the hole and the Aldermen are making a big deal of bottled water. Cancel the bottled water, and get on with the real job of cutting waste, negotiating for union give-backs and ridding Town Hall of cronies. Egad!

posted by: NewHavener on February 16, 2011  12:39pm

Congratulations to all.  The bottled water industry has spent years trying to convince us—however they can—that the only safe thing to do is drink their unregulated water from a plastic bottle, and in the process pay 2000x what we’d pay for tap.  Glad to see our community is waking up and supporting this public trust.

Others raise valid points, but what they tell us is that we should invest more in our public water systems, not less.

posted by: streever on February 16, 2011  12:58pm

bottled water is the same thing. Tap water put in a bottle.

Drink tap water from New Haven, or tap water from Bridgeport in a bottle: one costs us money, and one is free.

Is it really so hard to understand this?

Great work Elicker, Haaheim, and the many other activists who went out last night.

posted by: Pristine State Water on February 16, 2011  1:04pm

Connecticut has some of the cleanest water in the country and has such good quality water that it doesn’t have to reuse treated water. The notion that we need to have bottled water at all, let alone in municipal buildings, is beyond ridiculous. While the dollar amount is not huge, it is equal to a lot more potholes being filled—sounds like a good trade to me!

posted by: davec on February 16, 2011  1:05pm

What if I drink all the water from my gutters?  Will I have to pay the stormwater ‘rain’ tax?

Just trying to be progressive here.

posted by: BillB on February 16, 2011  1:53pm

It seems that the article starts with the discussion of wasting money on buying bottled water for city employees and schools. Does it then progress to banning bottled water in city buildings?

I am all for drinking tap water and saving the city $32,000, but let’s not lose sight of other concerns while considering this proposal. For daily use it seems that employees can easily use their own personal containers for their drinks. For more formal, small, well organized meetings, a pitcher of water and glasses seems like a reasonable solution. But the article seems to suggest that bottled water will be banned from city property, if that is the case it may be short sighted, incur unanticipated costs and lead to some unintended consequences.

A complete ban would be a big mistake as people who are thirsty need to be able to get a drink. Many on the go, health conscious people prefer to be able to use a smaller, sanitary, resealable, single serve bottle of water over the choice of a community pitcher of water and loose paper cups from an unknown source. Drinking water is always a better choice than soda and other sugar laced drinks. Many fund raisers in the schools sell bottled water at school events to raise money for various causes. It would be interesting to see how many people switch to buying bottled soda if they can’t find bottled water. Soda will continue the problem of plastic bottles and increase ongoing health issues associated with unhealthy drinks and junk food.

How will we know that the water, pitchers and cups have been stored and handled in a sanitary manner? Will this proposal mean that qualified food service workers will be required to be at events where water is served? Who will clean up the mess that occurs when serving water? What will be the cost of this?

How about if we just eliminate buying $32,000 of bottled water as a line item and not add the administrative time and cost burden of one more politically correct ordinance? If we are truly interested in saving city money we should watch for proposals like this that will likely cost more in time than they are likely to save, if they are to be to be ratified and passed as part of the City of New Haven Ordinances.

posted by: streever on February 16, 2011  2:14pm

Links: cos the people want ‘em!

Poland Springs sued for calling tap water spring water:—NewsPiece5167

Best part? One of the sources of Poland Springs water is a “former trash and refuse dump, and below an illegal disposal site where human sewage was sprayed as fertilizer for many years.”

I would rather our city leaders NOT drink water from a sewage and trash dump site, but instead drink water from our tap. I genuinely believe it will be safer.

posted by: NewHavenRes on February 16, 2011  2:34pm

I’m all for this.  That said, my tap water tastes terrible.  So does the tap water at Gateway (fresh from the Sound, perhaps?).  Can we stop by the other schools and fill up a bucket?

posted by: nfjanette on February 16, 2011  2:56pm

Will the water fountains filter the tap water to reduce the notable chlorine taste?  If so, will there be scheduled maintenance for the filters and has their cost been considered?  What about the issue of water fountains that are used by mouth directly - is there a cleaning protocol to control the vast quantities of bacteria that grow on the mouthpieces?

posted by: streever on February 16, 2011  3:22pm

Water fountains have been safe from bacteria since the early 1900s, when the government mandated they all have the arc and splash guard.

While some do have lead, that is due to old construction materials (pipes with lead in them). New Haven schools do not have this problem, due to the recent construction.

posted by: Threefifths on February 16, 2011  5:24pm

posted by: streever on February 16, 2011 11:58am
bottled water is the same thing. Tap water put in a bottle.

Drink tap water from New Haven, or tap water from Bridgeport in a bottle: one costs us money, and one is free.

Is it really so hard to understand this?

Great work Elicker, Haaheim, and the many other activists who went out last night.

Did you read the website I posted DUDE.The tap water is no good. and By the way not all bottle water comes from the tap.

posted by: Joe Hadenough on February 16, 2011  5:41pm

Just put a filter system on your tap you can buy these from local hardware store and they are easy to install. Google “Nestle Water Frog”
there could be more in the bottle than you bargained for!

posted by: Julia Biagiarelli on February 16, 2011  7:32pm

saving money, reducing carbon footprint and less plastic waste.  Thank you-New Haven!

posted by: streever on February 17, 2011  2:53pm

“* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”
this is off the website you linked.

Guess what the biggest difference is between bottled and tap?

Bottled is not regulated to the same degree that tap is.

Tap water faces more regulations, tests, and has a greater assurance of being safe than bottled water.

The bottled water you claim is better than tap water has not been tested or verified to be so: it is purely their own marketing language you are parroting.

I seriously have a hard time understanding you. In one breath you speak out against ignorance, in the next breath, you parrot corporate marketing while ignoring verifiable facts. Truly puzzling.

posted by: Threefifths on February 17, 2011  5:42pm

posted by: streever on February 17, 2011 1:53pm
“* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”
this is off the website you linked.

Guess what the biggest difference is between bottled and tap?

Bottled is not regulated to the same degree that tap is.

Tap water faces more regulations, tests, and has a greater assurance of being safe than bottled water.

They must have missed something.You Need to read Millions in U.S. Drink Dirty Water, Records Show
Published: December 7, 2009


seriously have a hard time understanding you. In one breath you speak out against ignorance, in the next breath, you parrot corporate marketing while ignoring verifiable facts. Truly puzzling.

your man Elicker and allof his supporters are the one’s parrot corporate marketing while ignoring verifiable facts.Did he read other reports?

posted by: Claudia Herrera on February 19, 2011  2:30pm

Aldermen Elicker  
Please check these very productive, well done prepare, and organized Websites. The more important about the topic is that they are taking actions on the World Wide Crisis of Water.  Maybe taking different approach not only to the City employees but to the public in general to be aware of the price that we all really paying. As consumers of bottle water.  Hope some local environmental l leaders want to take action.

Suggestion:  promote the movie “FLOW” for awareness?

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