UnBottle Orleans seeks to reduce negative impacts of bottled water locally

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 9 June 2016 at 9:00 am

Longer-term goals include more drinking fountains at parks

Jena Buckwell for UnBottle Orleans

Photo by Kristina Gabalski– Jena Buckwell of the Orleans County Soil and Water Conservation District is working through the recently launched UnBottle Orleans campaign to encourage residents, businesses, museums, government agencies, employers and event planners to give up bottled water and utilize tap water.  This week, Orleans County Master Gardeners decided to work with Buckwell on an agreement to “UnBottle” at meetings and events.

ALBION – UnBottle Orleans is hoping to change the way you think about bottled water. The campaign, which is sponsored by the Orleans County Soil and Water Conservation District, was launched recently to bring attention to the negative environmental, economic and social impacts of bottled water.

Jena Buckwell has been working on the campaign through her AmeriCorps position at the Orleans County Soil and Water Conservation District. She says UnBottle Orleans wants to help residents, businesses, event planners, museums, tourist attractions, government agencies, clubs and organizations make the transition away from bottled water.

“While purchasing bulk water bottles and selling is convenient in some regards, it’s less convenient than simply increasing public access to municipal water,” Buckwell said. “With bottled water, there’s the task and expense of going to get the water, or having it delivered, and also of disposing the bottles properly – which often does not happen. Much of Orleans County is on municipal water, so while making the transition to encouraging event goers and customers to use tap water will absolutely require some re-thinking of our current strategy. In the long-run it requires less effort, money and generates far less waste.”

Buckwell explained that recycling plastic water bottles is not a sustainable or efficient means of dealing with waste generated from bottled water.

“Recycling in and of itself is a high-energy process, and with (the low quality of plastic water bottles), most bottled water plastic does not get recycled,” she said.

The carbon footprint for bottled water is much larger than municipal water, in regards to travel and storage. Buckwell said.

“Bottled water requires the energy intensive process of actually making the bottle, bottling the water, further packaging, transportation, storage, transportation to your home or event, storage in your home, and then (hopefully) transportation to a recycling facility where the energy intensive process of recycling the bottle takes place,” she said. “Tap water requires absolutely none of that.”

The transition phase away from the bottle is critical, she pointed out.

UnBottle Orleans recommends individuals and families try reusable water bottles, preferably stainless steel, but BPA-free plastic (such as Nalgene) is also an option.

“It’s good to keep ease of cleaning in mind when buying a new reusable bottle as people are less likely to use their water bottle if cleaning it is a hassle,” Buckwell said.

She said families can also use water jugs for transporting water when they will be out and about for long periods.

UnBottle Orleans is also working to increase access to public water. “It’ll be a longer term goal,” Buckwell explained. “But as citizens, we have the ability to make the request of our local government that refilling stations and water fountains become the norm throughout our towns, parks, etc. The early stages of our campaign have included discussion with local government and we’ve had really excellent reception. One of our goals is to increase drinking fountains in villages, as well as parks, including along the canal path.”

Buckwell adds that she feels Orleans County is well-suited to make the transition.

“We have excellent drinking water immediately and abundantly available to us,” she said. “Our Health Department is thorough and committed to providing safe drinking water. Additionally, Orleans County is filled with nature lovers and outdoorsmen and women who regularly connect with and see first-hand the environmental damage that is caused by our various habits of consumption, including bottled water, whether it be bottles floating about in a favorite fishing spot or as litter along a hiking path. Making the connection that our habits damage the natural places we love is an important first step.”

Buckwell says community member involvement for campaigning, letter-writing, tabling, etc. is invited and encouraged. Interested residents can contact UnBottle Orleans at unbottleorleans@gmail.com.