The multinational food giant Nestle has been accused of attempting to “drain” an Ontario town of its water as the company fights to remove newly-placed restrictions on its ability to draw water during times of drought.
But Nestle Waters Canada says it practices sustainable water use, and argues it’s being unfairly targeted, as no other water-drawing businesses in the area have mandatory restrictions during droughts.
Nestle, the world’s largest bottler of water, has recently been in the spotlight over its water policies, after a 2005 video went viral last month, showing Nestle Chairman Peter Brabeck arguing that water should not be considered a human right, and be treated as a foodstuff commodity instead. (He seems to have changed his tune recently.)
A petition launched on the SumOfUs site asking Nestle to “stop draining Ontario's watershed to bottle water” has garnered more than 100,000 Facebook “likes.”
Nestle was recently given a five-year extension on its permit to draw as much as 1.1 million litres of water daily from a well in Hillsburgh, Ontario, near the city of Guelph. As part of that permit extension, the province made it mandatory for Nestle to reduce water-taking during times of drought.
The area has suffered three droughts since 2007. The first half of 2012 was the driest the area has been since 1958.
Nestle’s previous water-taking permit did not include mandatory drought limits, and the company appealed the new permit’s restrictions. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment agreed in February to remove the restrictions.
Story continues below slideshow
The issue: Who would have thought that being a fashionista could take such a toll on the environment? Unfortunately, according to the Indian Textile Journal, the textile industry is one of the biggest creators of wastewater worldwide. The EPA claims that it takes 2,900 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans. Most of the water is used in the "wet processing" and dyeing of materials. The fix: The industry itself is making strides in cutting down their waste. According to the New York Times, companies are using innovative measures to combat wastewater, such as AirDye technology and counter-current rinsing. Still, there is a long way to go. One way that you can cut down on textile waste is to reuse and recycle. Need a pair of jeans? Check out Goodwill, or a nearby consignment shop. Want a bright red shirt? Buy a dye-free light material, and color the shirt yourself.
The issue: For those who live through tortuous summer heat, nothing can beat a refreshing, chlorinated backyard pool. But sadly, this high-temp weather respite can be a source of major water loss. Besides the amount of water initially needed to fill a pool, cement cracks and evaporation can lead to almost double the original amount of water being used. According to the National Leak Foundation of Mesa, 30% of pools have leaks in them, many of which go unnoticed due to an automatic refilling mechanism. In addition, evaporation is a major problem in arid environments (like the Southwest). During the hottest summer days in the driest climates, a 400 square foot surface area pool can lose over 2,500 gallons of water in one month! The fix: The best plan is to forgo the private pool in favor of a public one at a park or private club. If you do want to keep your backyard pool, make sure to check carefully for leaks in your liner and cracks underwater. In addition, always put a cover on when it's not being used, even (especially!) in the summer.
The issue: Although Las Vegas may be known as a hub of vice, water waste is a lesser known evil. In fact, just living in the Nevada city means you are using way more water than the average consumer. This isn't personal: due to the hot and arid climate, evaporation is a major concern in Southwestern cities. Vegas in particular is home to a number of golf courses and luxury resorts, where a large quantity of water is needed to keep the grounds green and tidy. According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, water laws in Nevada include a restriction in lawn size, and assigned-day watering. The fix: Embrace the desert flora. Instead of working tirelessly for thirsty-looking front yard grass, Nevadans can landscape around their homes with cacti and other desert shrubbery. If giving up green is not the way you want to go, astro-turf or other grass substitutes are easy, affordable, and low maintenance options. According to the EPA, replacing grass with artificial turf will save you 2/3 of regular lawn water use. In addition, indoor potted plants and herbs can add to kitchen ambiance. Flickr image courtesy of stevendepolo
The issue: Meat production is a controversial industry, and not only because of its animal treatment record. According to a UNESCO Institute for Water Education Study conducted between 1996-2005, "29% of the total water footprint of the agricultural sector in the world is related to the production of animal products." One third of that is related to cattle production, according to the study. "The water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of a wisely chosen crop product with equivalent nutritional value," the study states. The fix: Consider cutting down on your meat consumption (check out our "Meatless Monday" page!). According to the aforementioned UNESCO study, "managing the demand for animal products by promoting a dietary shift away from a meat-rich diet will be an inevitable component in the environmental policy of government."
The issue: In an effort to go as enviro-friendly as possible, you have made the switch in your refueling routine to a corn ethanol blend called E85 instead of pure gasoline in your car. Sure, it has some drawbacks (as you can see here) but it's better in many ways than regular gas... right? Unfortunately, corn ethanol's high water consumption makes it a controversial energy alternative. According to the National Academies Press, one gallon of corn ethanol requires four to seven gallons of water for production, while petroleum refinement requires about only 1.5 gallons of water for one gallon of gasoline. E85 also provides "about 30 percent less fuel economy" than ordinary gasoline, according to Mother Earth News. The fix: If you can afford it, invest in a hybrid. According to this UNESCO study, bio-electricity is the most water-efficient form of transport. But is the Chevy Volt not exactly in your price range? Many people still think that the pros of biofuels outweigh the cons, especially if you use your car in moderation. Try to limit your driving time by walking, carpooling, or taking public transportation.
The issue: Opening up the toilet lid and seeing a tank full of unflushed pee isn't pleasant. Not flushing, however, is a minor offense in contrast to actually doing it. According to Networx, it takes 1.6 gallons of water to flush a mere 10 ounces of urine, rendering perfectly good water undrinkable. Since the average person pees six times per day, you are using about 2,774 gallons of water every year. The fix: Unless you poop, don't flush as frequently. Flickr image courtesy of Sustainable sanitation
The issue: In 2008, a scandal erupted around Starbucks' water use. After a customer spotted a running faucet, she asked the barista why it was left on. "That's just what we are supposed to do," she replied. Starbucks' "dipping wells," as these streams of water were called, wasted 6 million gallons of water per day. While they have since drastically decreased their water use by 21.6%, it still means the company uses about 4,704,000 gallons of water per day. The fix: The Sierra Club says that coffee production has a much lower water-footprint than tea, so no need to forgo your joe altogether. Instead, the Daily Green suggests brewing your own java, and of that only the amount you think you'll drink. In addition, buying local coffee saves on water lost during transport, according to TapIt.com. Extra points for using a filterless (and non-electric) French press, reusable travel mug, and coffee in recyclable containers or jars! Flickr image courtesy of bfishadow
The issue: When shopping for fruits and veggies at the grocery store versus the local farmers market, many people can only see two differences: the price and the convenience of a grocery store. However, farming uses up a significant amount of available fresh water. According to Wired Magazine, farmers are responsible for 70% of the world's water consumption, and most of it is not going to good use. Wasteful irrigation systems, overly-dry land that needs an abundance of water, and a lack of efficiency are at the root (pun intended) of the problem. The fix: Go local or go home. Some smaller farms are trying new, water sustainable methods to grow their crops. Look up your local farms here, and contact them to see if they utilize these water sustainable technologies for farmers mentioned in the New York Times. And, of course, home-grown produce is not only water-friendly, but can be cheaper and much, much tastier!
The issue: Contrary to the conservationist's assumption, a dishwasher can actually be more water and energy efficient than washing dishes by hand, says Treehugger.com. However, this is only true when the dishwasher is run once it is full. Many people, especially those who live alone or with one another person, do not think twice about running a half full, or even a quarter full, dishwasher; it is simply one of those daily chores everyone does. But for a non-Energy Saver dishwasher, which according to the Energy Saver website uses about 6-7 gallons per load, those gallons add up when you are only washing for one. The fix: Only run the dishwasher once you have enough dishes to fill it. If leaving dirty dishes unwashed makes you feel icky, use a damp cloth to wipe off plates before leaving them in the washer.
The issue: Who knew that the structure of your washing machine says so much about your water footprint? According to Networx, front-loading washing machines are often more energy and water efficient than top loading machines. Although the front loading machines still use 20 gallons of water per cycle, National Geographic claims that top-loaders use twice that amount! The fix: Get yourself a front loading washer.
Water is one of the fundamental requirements of life but as the population increases, it is becoming harder to use. This special from Green TV looks at how the sourcing of water is becoming a political problem and how the fight for life is becoming literal.
But that got the attention of many social justice groups, which saw something potentially nefarious in Nestle’s insistence that it not face mandatory water-taking restrictions during drought. The Council of Canadians, along with several regional conservation groups, has appealed the ministry’s decision to an environmental tribunal.
“We find it very troubling that the Ontario government has settled with Nestle,” Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow said in a statement. “Ontario must prioritize communities’ right to water above a private company’s thirst for profit. Our government must think about water availability for our grand children, great grand children and beyond.”
“Under its current permit, Nestlé pays $3.71 for every million litres of water it pumps from the local watershed, which it then packages in single-use plastic bottles and sells back to the public for as much as $2 million,” the Council says.
But a Nestle spokesman told The Huffington Post Canada that the drought restrictions were only put in place due to an “administrative misunderstanding,” and mandatory rules were never the intent.
Corporate affairs director John B. Challinor said the company has always complied with requests for voluntary reduction of water use, and the province always has the ability to order reductions in times of severe drought.
Challinor argued there are other enterprises taking more water in the area than Nestle does, noting that the quarries and golf courses in the area are not subject to mandatory water-drawing restrictions.
“They get a free pass, and we don’t,” Challinor said, adding that “it’s an issue of fairness.”
Challinor said the company was being unfairly targeted “because we’re a large multinational corporation.”
But the Council of Canadians says the case before the tribunal is about more than Nestle’s use of water, and goes to the issue of how much control residents have over the use of a public resource.
“If successful, this case could set a crucial precedent for recognizing water as a public trust and granting communities priority rights to control their water, and how it is used,” the group says.
Challinor said the Council of Canadians took up the cause against Nestle because it “doesn’t support multinational trade.”
Challinor said Nestle takes groundwater, not surface water, in the Hillsburgh area and hydro-geological studies show groundwater levels don’t affect surface water levels in the area.
He said Nestle aims to be sustainable in its water use and “would never consider” running a well dry because it would harm the business.
“Some Nestle wells in Europe have been operating for 600 years,” he said.
No timeline has been set for the Ontario Environmental Tribunal’s decision on the matter.