Mayors Urge Municipal Bans On Bottled Water

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The U.S. Conference of Mayors has passed a resolution urging governments to phase out bottled water in city buildings. Scott Simon talks with Martin J. Chavez, mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., and one of the co-authors of the resolution.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has come together to take a stand against bottled water. They've passed a nonbinding resolution urging cities to try to phase out government use of bottled water wherever possible. Martin J. Chavez of Albuquerque is one of the coauthors of the resolution. He joins us from his office. Mayor Chavez, thanks so much for being with us.

Mayor MARTIN J. CHAVEZ (Albuquerque, New Mexico): Delighted to be with you.

SIMON: So what's your problem with bottled water?

Mayor CHAVEZ: Well, from a taxpayer perspective at City Hall, the markup is between 1,000 and 10,000 times over tap water.

SIMON: Now, let's understand this. If some guy or woman who is an employee at City Hall on their own dime wants to buy one of these overpriced Fijian Glacier water, or whatever they are, they can do that and bring it in, right?

Mayor CHAVEZ: Oh, absolutely. That's their choice. But actually what we see most employees are doing is bringing their reusable bottles, and they fill them up with the tap. And they use them all day long at their desk.

SIMON: Are cities, Mayor Chavez, in some kind of competition with bottled water companies at this particular point? Because I would imagine this might have driven down the consumption of water.

Mayor CHAVEZ: Certainly the industry opposed this resolution very vigorously. The subtext - and this has really irritated, I think, most mayors - is that somehow bottled water is safer or healthier than tap water. That's absolutely false. The only real legitimate entrepreneurial perspective, if you will, is convenience. Because there is a convenience aspect for folks that may want to go on a picnic, or whatever it may be, to have bottled water. But it is certainly not healthier or safer, and it is extraordinarily more expensive.

SIMON: Let me understand this. So the - let's say, I think there is a brand like this but I couldn't be certain, that Pristine water from some kind of bubbling brook in Finland, which has never been mixed with anything, is no healthier than city of Albuquerque water?

Mayor CHAVEZ: It is. It's not only not any healthier, but also if you look at the carbon footprint for producing and then transporting that water, it's environmentally disastrous. And then, of course, we know that about 80 percent of all plastic bottles for water end up in landfills. They don't, unfortunately, get recycled. And so you have that other end of the equation.

SIMON: I seem to recall, a few years ago New York City's tap water, which is celebrated for its cleanliness, there was some company that hit upon the idea to bottle it and sell it elsewhere in the country.

Mayor CHAVEZ: And that is done with Albuquerque water as well. You know, interesting little factoid. In New York City, if everyone gave up their water bottles for one week, they'd save 24 million bottles from being landfilled. And indeed, if you look at it from the energy perspective, one and a half million barrels of oil are utilized annually to make the bottles that people drink the water from.

SIMON: Mr. Mayor, nice talking to you.

Mayor CHAVEZ: Thank you.

SIMON: Mayor Martin J. Chavez of Albuquerque. This is NPR News.

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