With Toronto in the midst of a nasty heat wave, this cooler beckoning walkers-by in Yorkville with “Free Water” seemed like a desert mirage. But sure enough, the lid pulled back to reveal perfectly-chilled bottled water care of The Body Clinic, a high-end spa and salon.
At first, the cooler seemed a sweet gesture to us sun-beaten, sweat-soaked pedestrians, bringing back memories of the refreshing Freezies given out on hot days in elementary school. But the concept of “Free Water” gave us pause. Isn’t water, which makes up two thirds of the earth’s surface and literally falls from the sky, already free?
Of course, we’re not that naive: bottled water is multi-billion dollar industry and rivals soda pop and fruit juice in popularity. There are even designer brands that have their own celebrity endorsements.
But the ludicrousness of bottled water is finally coming under scrutiny. Macleans recently published this article exposing the astonishing environmental costs of bottled water. Ignoring the sky-high markup and the pollution created by production and distribution, the bottles themselves are single-use recyclable (meaning they can only be used for food products once, and are then converted into non-recyclable materials like carpet or synthetic fabrics), and an estimated 88 percent are never recycled anyway. (We won’t even get into the allegations about the toxins that leach into the water from the plastic.)
Recent studies have shown that most of bottled water’s hyperbolic claims of superiority to tap water is complete bunk: much of it comes from the same place as the stuff in your toilet bowl, and in spite of fears of contamination created by the Walkerton E. coli tragedy, tap water is arguably safer than the bottled stuff. Toronto’s water is provided with 650 bacterial tests each month, while the testing practices of bottled water companies are self-regulating and fairly unknown.
But the ethical issues of bottled water aside, the offer of “Free Water” as an unexpected treat begs the question of why water isn’t readily available in the public realm, and why people are essentially forced to either buy water from a store or carry tap water from home to quench their thirst. Certainly we acknowledge that water fountains create their own cost, maintenance, and hygiene issues, but it’s the lack of publicly available water that feeds the impression of it being a luxury item. It doesn’t help that the bottled water in question is being given away by a spa—a symbol for many of vanity and indulgence.
As for Toronto, in spite of the water and sewer system allegedly being on the verge of collapse, our tap water is not only safe but proven to be delicious! And with the recent reopening of a number of water fountains in the city’s parks, perhaps the return to readily available drinking fountains throughout Toronto isn’t a ridiculous expectation.
To The Body Clinic: we appreciate the thought, but the next time you give away something cool and refreshing to parched passers-by, why not make it ice cream?
Please please please make it ice cream?
Photo by Beth Bohnert