Bottled water group says Maryland policy doesn’t hold water

A plan to wean Maryland state workers off bottled water has proved particularly hard to swallow for one interested party: a group representing the bottled water industry.

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 ave 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 new policy, put forth by the Maryland Green Purchasing Committee, says that state funds “should not be used to purchase bottled water for use in facilities that are served by public water supplies or potable well water, except when required for safety, health or emergency situations.”

Rich Norling, a member of the purchasing committee, said that is already the current practice of many state agencies, though it has never been written down. Some people have characterized the new policy as more restrictive than it actually is, he said.

“We are not restricting access to bottled water,” Norling said. “We’re just not paying for it.”

Norling said there would be some cost savings to the state, but just how much is hard to quantify, he said.

With the move, Maryland becomes the sixth state to go on record opting for the tap over bottled water, according to Corporate Accountability International, a group that has been pushing the idea.

“There is a growing movement of cities, states and members of Congress opting for the tap over bottled water,” trumpets the organization’s Web site. “To date over 100 cities, 5 states, including Vermont, New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Illinois, and 16 members of Congress have cut spending on bottled water!”

The IBWA argued Thursday that not all arguments in favor of the policy shift hold water

“Removing bottled water as an option does not automatically drive people to drink tap water,” the organization said. “According to peer-reviewed consumer research, and demonstrated through testing in Toronto, Canada schools, if bottled water is not available, only one-third of people seek out tap water, while two-thirds instead choose packaged beverages that add calories or sugar, or both, to their diet.”

Moreover, the organization noted, “bottled water containers are 100 percent recyclable, and recycling rates have doubled in the past five years.”

So far, Norling said, he’s heard few complaints from state employees.

Patrick Moran, Maryland director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told the Baltimore Sun he’d go along with the bottle phaseout “if this is going to allow us to put the money into vital services. But if this is used as some sort of publicity stunt, then I think that’s nonsense.”

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.

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