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We have a global plastics crisis. The sheer volume of plastic in the world has created a dangerous threat to both our ecological and human health. While not the only cause of the plastics crisis, bottled water is a huge contributor and one we can eliminate.

In the 1970s, about one billion litres of water were sold annually around the world. By 2020, annual bottled water consumption reached 465 billion litres with sales worth almost $400 billion.

The Guardian reported that a million plastic bottles are sold around the world every minute.  More recent estimates indicate that number is 1.2 million. If placed end to end, the number of single-use plastic bottles now sold every year would extend more than halfway to the sun.

Ninety-one percent of all plastic bottles do not get recycled. Since it takes them 400 years to degrade, all plastic bottles are still somewhere on the planet.

We are dumping this plastic into our lakes, rivers, and oceans. By 2050 or sooner, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish.

The industry could, if it chose to, use recycled plastic known as rPET. But the top six bottled water companies use a combined average of just 6.6% of this recycled plastic in their production.

Microplastics have made their way into the human food chain, many recent studies show. No one knows the long term effects of this reality.

Bottled water contains twice the amount of microplastics per litre as tap water.

In Canada

Canadians consume two billion plastic bottles of water every year, or 5.3 million a day, with sales of almost $6 billion a year.

Canada recycles just 9% of all plastics. The rest is dumped in landfills and incinerators or tossed away.

Every year, Canadians dump 22 million pounds of plastic into the Great Lakes. Private equity corporation One Rock (that bought out Nestlé) extracts 4.7 million litres a day from wells in the Guelph area and is preparing to open a third well soon.

It pays the Ontario government less than one-twentieth of a penny for a litre of water, which it then sells for about $2.

Its operations are located on the Grand River where 90% of the local First Nations community (Six Nations of the Grand River) do not have running  water in their homes.

A recent poll found that over 80% of Ontarians want these bottled water operations shut down.

Taking action

Globally and in Canada, we are beginning to take action against plastic waste. In March 2022, the United Nations approved a landmark agreement to create the world’s first ever global plastic pollution treaty, describing it as the most significant environmental deal since the 2015 Paris climate accord.

An intergovernmental committee has been tasked with negotiating a binding treaty to be finalized by 2024. The UN Environment Assembly said that this commitment “made history” and that it was now “officially on track for a cure.”

In June 2022, Canada adopted a plan to ban some single-use plastics and keep them out of the environment. They include checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware, ring carriers, stir sticks and straws. The government reports that the ban will eliminate over 1.3 million tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic waste and more than 22,000 tonnes of plastics pollution over the next decade, equivalent to over a million bags of garbage.

While this ban is an important first step, the fact that it does not include plastic water bottles is a huge problem. The regulation of bottled water in Canada is overseen by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as bottled water is considered a food product. In fact, the bottled water industry is openly promoted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada with its website advertising the “health and wellness benefits” of bottled water. In a 2017 report, the department lamented the “gap” in bottled water exports to China, saying that the water quality crisis in that country offers “significant opportunities” for the Canadian bottled water industry.

A key pledge of the Blue Schools Network is to teach young people about the dangers of plastic bottled water and to phase out their provision on school premises.

For more information about Nestlé’s effects on community water, watch the 3-minute video Water for Life, Not for Profit! The Fight Against Nestlé in Ontario on YouTube.


By: Maude Barlow