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ISSUE 121 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/21/2008

Bottled water proven dubious

By Ida Holdahl
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 21, 2008

This past week was designated St. Olaf's World Water Week, a week for the College to focus on the political issues surrounding water. World Water Week co-organizer Carl Samuelson '08 explained that the week was to be "founded on the idea that water is a basic human right, and further that clean, drinkable water should be a basic right."

Samuelson, who is interning for Corporate Responsibility International, explained that World Water Week is part of a much larger movement. Corporate Responsibility International is an organization that has been waging campaigns against corporations, which they see as proving an ever-increasing threat to the air we breathe and the water we drink. Samuelson said that the organization is asking the three primary bottle water companies, Nestle, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, three simple things.

"First we are asking them to reveal the source of their bottled water," Samuelson said. "Because 40 percent [of bottled water] comes from local taps," he explained, the corporations are "adding value to something that is completely accessible." Thus far, only Pepsi has complied with Corporate Responsibility International's request.

"Second, we are asking corporations to publish when water quality is jeopardized," Samuelson said. "Bottled water companies, unlike the public water system, is not required to reveal breaches in purity," he said. Samuelson explained that public water systems are required to not only report water quality to consumers, but also to test the water quality hundreds of times each day. "Lastly, we are asking corporations not to privatize public water sources," Samuelson said. He acknowledged that this issue is not as pertinent to the United States as it is to "other parts of the world where there may only be only one well in a town." In these cases, Samuelson said, privatizing water makes it inaccessible.

Samuelson explained that by asking students to sign a pledge to stop drinking bottled water as part of the "Think Outside the Bottle" movement started by Corporate Responsibility International, World Water Week asks students to reinvest in the public water systems. "When you drink tap water you are giving support to local water systems and ensuring they will be there in the future," he said.

Samuelson also noted the movement in regards to bottled water in Minneapolis. Mayor Rybeck recently cancelled the city's bottled water contract. "Minneapolis was a big one and other cities across the country have followed suit," he said. "Rybeck reinvested 150 million from the contract into the Minneapolis water system."

Samuelson hopes St. Olaf will follow suit, as he has addressed the issue with Bon Appetit. According to Samuelson, Bon Appetit's executive chef Peter Abrahamson would be willing to negotiate such a movement if the demand was not so great. Samuelson, who has been working jointly with the Environmental Coalition, hopes that having students sign the pledge will be a "powerful collateral" in such negotiations. "The main goal now is to have students willing to give up the market," he said.

By giving up such a market, St. Olaf students would also be saving the environment and their pocket books, Samuelson said. In the last year alone, he said, "making bottles to meet Americans' demand for bottled water required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil and generated more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions." After these bottles are used, they make their way to the landfills where he said "plastic bottles are today the number one most common item." He said it can cost cities more than $70 million in fees to dump and incinerate plastic bottles alone.

Saving money comes into the picture because, Samuelson said, "bottled water, which typically comes from the same source as tap water, is sold back at hundreds of times the cost. It is ounce per ounce more expensive than gasoline."

Anyone can take the pledge to "think outside the bottle" at

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