Friday, October 7, 2011

Bottled Water Lobby Fights Maryland's Switch to Tap Water // Plus, Do Lobbyists Write GOP Sen. Colburn's Facebook Page?

GOP Sen. Richard Colburn
UPDATE: One reader notes that after GOP Sen. Colburn and the Solo Cup lobbyists succeeded in amending the Green Maryland Act, Solo Cup still shut down a plant in Maryland and slashed its workforce in the State. Their main argument against the bill was that it would cost Maryland jobs! Our reader also points out that Solo Cup manufactures the exact recycled cups that Maryland is proposing to now purchase. Can you say missed opportunity?

Also, Maryland Reporter has a new article that gives a closer look at the politics and process behind Maryland's effort to green its purchases. One spokesperson sees "Maryland’s effort as part of a national movement."

Industry groups love to finance public education campaigns to muddy policy debates. For example, during a recent stay at a hotel, I was amused to see a television ad from the corn syrup lobby touting claims that natural sugar isn't healthier than high fructose corn syrup. The latest example of this behavior comes from Maryland, where the bottled water lobby is pushing back against the State's decision to stop buying bottled water with limited taxpayer dollars. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
The International Bottled Water Association on Thursday piped up about a policy endorsed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) last week under which the state government will stop buying bottles when tap water is available. The move is intended to save money and reduce waste. 
“It is unfortunate that the state has opted to single out healthy, safe and zero-calorie bottled water,” the IBWA said in a statement that called O’Malley’s endorsement “disappointing.”
The IBWA proceeds to describe how people without bottled water choose unhealthy beverages instead of drinking tap water. But those bad decisions don't mean we should all join in. As one writer summarized:
In reality, bottled water is just water. That fact isn't stopping people from buying a lot of it. Estimates variously place worldwide bottled water sales at between $50 and $100 billion each year, with the market expanding at the startling annual rate of 7 percent. 
Bottled water is big business. But in terms of sustainability, bottled water is a dry well. It's costly, wasteful and distracts from the brass ring of public health: the construction and maintenance of safe municipal water systems. 
Want some solid reasons to kick the bottled water habit? We've rounded up five to get you started. 
1. Bottled water isn't a good value 
2. No healthier than tap water 
3. Bottled water means garbage 
4. Bottled water means less attention to public systems 
5. The corporatization of water
You can read the full explanation for each of those five points in the author's original article, but the author didn't even get to the utter waste of auto fuel in trucking water across the country (it is heavy!). Some people worry that policies like this are just PR stunts, but on top of reducing waste, measures like this help educate the public on the ties between our food supply and resource consumption.
Blueberry Example: How many people care about where our blueberries come from? From fall to spring, for example, we expend resources shipping blueberries from Chile -- just so that we can top our pancakes year-round. I don't mean to pick on blueberries, but I think they provide an interesting example of an unconscious food choice. Do we need to eat blueberries year-round? Would we even notice if they were scarce half of the year? There are obviously other considerations, but when is the last time this even came up?
The end of taxpayer-purchased bottled water is just one of the early successes flowing from last year's passage of the Green Maryland Act. The bill, which was fought by altruists like the styrofoam lobby, established a "Green Purchasing Committee" and tasked the members with rooting out environmental waste in Maryland procurement. I asked Sen. Raskin's office (the bill's sponsor) to provide other examples of tangible changes in Maryland. Below we name a few:
  • Maryland changed the recycled paper requirements from 40% to 90% of the total volume of paper the state buys
  • To the extent practical, we now use compost created by state landscaping instead of purchased fertilizers
  • We created the green purchasing committee which oversees all state procurement to find ways to make it greener (this is where the end of bottled water purchases came from)
  • Maryland now measures electricity consumption, including how to make our HVAC systems and computer systems more efficient
  • We now conduct annual reviews by each department on how they can be greener in procurement
Interestingly, the state has yet to implement one reform. Maryland has now established a preference for food and beverage containers made from recycled materials or plant materials. Think of the prison system and the scope of that, as an example of potential benefits. But the slower pace on this isn't surprising, as the bill's initial passage was not staked against bottled water; instead, it was the styrofoam/Solo Cup lobby that interjected.

During the debate, GOP Senator Richard Colburn wrote a lengthy tirade on his Facebook page about Sen. Raskin's bill. I excerpt portions below, but I should note Mr. Colburn seems to have suspiciously extensive knowledge of the cup-making process -- or is it that lobbyists write his Facebook posts?
"Solo Cup, located in Federalsburg, is committed to increasing the use of recyclable and compostable foodservice products; however, a large portion of their products contain polystyrene and the cost of alternatives is 5 – 30% higher. Alternatives do not match the heat resistance of polystyrene and facilities do not accept the alternatives for composting. It is not a reality to simply assume that they would be able to be substituted for one another. Production requires different machines and technical capabilities.
Banning the use of polystyrene would put employee’s jobs at risk and a possible closing to the facilities.... There is no evidence that banning polystyrene containers will reduce landfill volumes in any appreciable way. Polystyrene containers also require less energy to make and weigh less than paper alternatives resulting in a savings on transportation costs. The bill would have an adverse affect on many of my constituents if the word ‘polystyrene’ had not been struck from the bill.
Wow. So this is how Republican lawmakers operate in Annapolis? In the meantime, here is Maryland Juice's home solution to getting guaranteed clean tap water:

Maryland Juice's PUR water filter. It attaches to my low-cost municipal water tap!
Water filters are a good alternative to bottled water. Find out more.

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