On Tap: Reducing Plastic Bottle Use

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Takoma Park has become one of the first cities in the Washington region to ban the use of city funds to buy small plastic bottles of water for government offices and city events. Instead, officials will encourage people to use recyclable containers or drink from fountains or large coolers.

It is a move that puts the city in sync with environmentally friendly actions by other local governments. The Montgomery County Council recently passed a package of bills that will offer tax credits to residents who retrofit their homes with energy-saving devices and require new homes to meet federal energy efficiency standards.

Gaithersburg recently constructed its first building -- the Robertson Park youth center -- to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, a nationally accepted rating system of green buildings. Two more green buildings, another youth center and an aquatic center are in the works.

Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams said the decision dovetails with the city's reputation for being progressive.

"We felt like we needed to step up our efforts to be a greener place, and one easy thing to do was to have city government take this action," Williams said. "We started with ourselves and said, 'Okay, we have plastic water bottles, and it's nuts to have them for a number of reasons.' "

With its April vote, Takoma Park joins communities as diverse as San Francisco and Fayetteville, Ark., in encouraging residents to return to tap water. Williams and other officials said this will help reduce waste. Even though plastic bottles are recyclable, officials said, the energy and resources that go into producing the bottles are wasteful.

"It was not just the trash issue," said Reuben Snipper, a Takoma Park Council member. "It was also the corporate ownership of water, which makes it enormously expensive." Snipper credited one of his constituents with coming forward with the idea.

"It's exciting to see Takoma Park taking the lead on this issue in the D.C. area," said Gigi Kellett, national director of the Think Outside the Bottle campaign, which is encouraging individuals and businesses to sign a pledge to reduce consumption of bottles of water.

Officials with the International Bottled Water Association said such actions may draw headlines but fail to address underlying environmental issues.

"Bottled water is a very safe, healthy, convenient beverage that consumers use to stay hydrated," said Joe Doss, president and chief executive of the association. "Any actions, such as [those taken in] Takoma Park that would discourage consumers from drinking bottled water, is not in the public interest."

Doss said many of his association's members have introduced lighter bottles in shapes that are more easily recycled.

"Bottled-water companies are committed to working with legislators to promote comprehensive environmental and stewardship policies," he said. "Any efforts to reduce waste should target all consumer goods, not just target one industry."

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