Devon Murphy Headshot

I'd Rather Be Thirsty Than Pay For Bottled Water

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I'm in line, and the two people ahead of me are getting patted down. My palms begin to sweat. My mind is focused firmly on the item sitting heavy in my backpack. I wonder what I was even thinking bringing it to begin with. I consider ditching my backpack in the bushes. But before I can, it's my turn.

"Ma'am is that water factory sealed?" the surly frisker asks me.

"No, it's from my tap," I stammer.

"I'm sorry, you'll have to pour it out."

My mind races back to the day my tree planting crew-boss found me passed out in a thicket from heat exhaustion. To say I'm not good with the sun is an understatement.

"But, it's 40 degrees!" I beg.

Then, face unfazed, she hits me with the bureaucratic cure-all -- "there's nothing I can do."

Foiled.

***

That was what happened to me on the way into Bjork's concert at Echo Beach, an outdoor venue owned by Ontario Place.

I had looked on the venue's website for information about bringing water to the show, but couldn't find anything. I thought I'd just go for it. I filled up an (admittedly dorky) CamelBak-style backpack with over a litre of water that I'd kept in the fridge all day. That was what ended up in a garbage pail at the gates of the concert.

With nowhere to fill up, the only option left was the vendors inside -- no way was I paying $4 for bottled water.

I felt so wronged! And so thirsty! And I knew it didn't have to be this way.

Why? Because for the last 10 years, I've gone to Hillside Festival in Guelph, ON. After so many years of attending the festival, held on Guelph Lake Island, I almost started to take for granted its green philosophy. At Hillside, spanning a Friday to a Sunday each July, a giant water tanker is brought in. All weekend long patrons can fill up their reusable bottles.

In fact, you can't even buy bottled water on the island.

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Look at all that free, delicious water!

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Now picture it: you're at the Molson Ampitheatre in the summer, enjoying the sweet musical stylings of One Direction. Your voice hoarse from screaming Harry's name, you saunter down to the fill up station and replenish your bottle with sweet, life-giving liquid. Nice, right?

Taking a page out of Hillside's book wouldn't even be a chore! Toronto is teeming with public water outlets -- over 30 on University of Toronto campus alone -- and locals and tourists alike should be encouraged to use that city water instead of buying bottles.

Which brings me back to the scene of the "crime." I thought that maybe because Echo Beach was affiliated with Ontario Place, owned by the Crown, my being a taxpayer would have some sway.

Wrong.

According to a representative at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Larry, Ontario Place is a private corporation, with the right to refuse you entry. Also, according to Larry, the moment you bottle water -- even if it's in a Nalgene with water from your own tap -- it's a product, and businesses have the right to refuse products from entering their gates.

My next thought was, in a heat advisory it might be a health hazard to deny patrons access to free water.

Also wrong.

Or as Larry so eloquently put it, "If it's a heat advisory, why would you go outside?"

Touche, Larry.

It's fair enough that businesses in a bustling city are trying to turn a profit, but to charge sometimes exorbitant fees for something freely available to Canadians seems just plain wrong.

I know what you're thinking: "If you don't like it, don't go to those places." But how many venues have forced you to leave your bottle at the door? I've poured one out at concert venues (indoor and outdoor), bars, movie theatres, and ironically, water parks. If you don't agree with buying bottled water, your options narrow.

We're lucky to live in a country where water is free and clean. Over 780-million people don't have access to clean water, including some people in Canada. It's insulting that we pour out perfectly safe water when so many go without.

The environmental impact of all those bottles is another thing to consider. The Toronto Star reported in 2012 that 20 per cent of Toronto's recycled materials end up in the landfill. Which is to say, we shouldn't feel too much better about buying a plastic bottle of Dasani after all.

By enforcing "factory sealed only" rules, some Toronto venues are encouraging patrons to buy water in a container that only adds to our overburdened dumps. This is litter that could be avoided.

Spending a weekend at a festival with the attitude that happy, hydrated patrons and a greener planet are more important than profit made me realize that I wish the many amazing events in Toronto would follow suit.

Water is a human right. Toronto would truly become a world class city, in my mind, if all its venues gave that right back to people.

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