Water Bottles and Schools

This is good news for a couple of reasons.

First off, the idea is right. Selling bottled water in schools is a stupid idea. Here in Metro Vancouver, we spend MetroVancouver’s drinking water quality is exceptional, with standards amongst the highest in the world, there is not reason for anyone to spend money on bottles of water, creating plastic waste, along with other impacts.

Bottled water is sometimes seen as convenient, but in Metro Vancouver we pay $0.0008 for a litre of the highest quality tap water in the world, compared to $2 or more for a litre of bottled water. That is a 2500x mark up. That is a spectacularly stupid consumer choice. Imagine if your ATM charged a 2500x mark up for the “convenience”, or if a cell phone call cost 2500x that of a pay phone. Like the new BC hydro ads: the amazing thing about wasting money on bottled water is that it is considered normal to do it.

Why? Clever marketing, and creating a culture where people are raised to think it is a reasonable, even the “safer” choice, to pay Pepsi or Coke a 2500x mark up for water. And Schools are a part of that plan. There is a reason most marketing of products are pointed at high-school aged people, it isn’t because they have money to spend, it is because that is where life-long habits are formed, from smoking to selecting toothpaste brands, to selecting religions. If they get you at 16, they likely have you for life. Worse, Schools are a “captive audience”, and the big soda marketers sign sweetheart deals to make sure only their brands are available in a particular school. In the case of NWSS, about $20,000 a year goes to the school athletic programs because of these deals.

But that $20K is not a “donation”, it is a bribe. An investment by a multi-national to bombard a captive audience and build brand loyalty. It is a bribe we should say no to. As obesity becomes a public health threat bigger than smoking, maybe we should take $20K from Rothmans to put cigarette machines in the school instead… the harm would probably be less. Bottled water is only part of the issue here, we should be banning the sale of pop and all snack foods in schools. If kids want to bring snacks to school, let them, but let us not use our schools for captive marketing exercises.

Too bad this debate got so mired in pro- vs. anti-labour rhetoric and politicking. Because it deflected from the real issue: what the hell are we thinking bilking kids for bottled water, and selling them malted battery acid cola in schools?

The second good news part of this story is the active group of High School students willing to take the lead on an initiative like this. The Environment is one area where the youth are teaching the parents, we are raising a generation of students who actually give a shit about the state of their home and their planet. With apologies to Gord Downie, every generation is smarter than it’s parents.

3 comments on “Water Bottles and Schools

  1. “As obesity becomes a public health threat bigger than smoking, maybe we should take $20K from Rothmans to put cigarette machines in the school instead… the harm would probably be less.”

    This is an example of a daft environmentalist who is suggesting a product containing known addictive and cancer causing compounds should be introduced to our schools instead of bottled drinking water or canned carbonated beverages to curb the health threat of obesity.

    Those 2 girls deserve far more credit for taking sensible action and making rational statements to the media, unlike the coattail surfing activities of NWEP.

    You have focused almost entirely on the costs and marketing to children which is a social problem, and has nothing to do with the environmental impacts of the product.

    People have the freedom of choice when presented with a marketing scheme, they can chose to not make the purchase.

  2. This comment went straight to Blogger’s SPAM filter… makes me wonder what who the source is… but it doesn’t read like SPAM to me, so I bumped it out front.

    “Product containing known addictive and cancer causing compounds”
    Soft drinks commonly contain both caffeine (a psychoactive stimulant with addictive properties), and benzoic acid / sodium benzoate (a known cancer-causing agent) as a preservative (though, notably, at concentrations not likely to cause actual harm). Still, I agree that Cigarettes were an exaggerated example that was both inflammatory and used for rhetorical purposes. The point I was making was not that smoking was good, but that we should be evaluating if there is any benefit to the students of having a product sold in schools before we say yes to the “gift money”, which seems like one of the motivations used to support have pop machines in schools.

    Yes, marketing to young adults (they aren’t really kids in this case) in a captive-audience setting is a social problem, and it results in an exacerbation of the environmental problem of selling bottled water. When a captive audience is aggressively marketed to, with little contrary information or competition available, “freedom of choice” is eroded.

    Not sure where the statement “Coattail surfing activities of NWEP” comes from. I did not mention the NWEP, the NWEP has not been involved in this at all, and I thought the entire point of my post was to call attention to the good work these two young women were doing. I thought I WAS giving them credit.

    Maybe it is SPAM after all…

  3. One of the challenges tap-a-holics face is finding tap water when away from home. Metro Vancouver developed a free iPhone app, Tap Map (http://bit.ly/g3nDaH) with the locations of public fountains throughout the region. We’ll have free apps for Blackberries and iPhones later this winter.

    Here’s our challenge, most outdoor drinking fountains get shut off for the winter. So we’re asking the region’s restaurants to opt in (http://bit.ly/gZognA) to Tap Map as locations where anyone can walk in and request a water bottle refill.

    If you like Tap Map, please tell your friends about it.

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