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Can Northampton become a Blue Community?

December 15, 2016

Bill Diamond was at a festival in Lunenburg, Canada, where he learned about an interesting initiative to protect water: Blue Communities.  Here is the opinion piece he wrote for the Hampshire Daily Gazette.

 

Northampton can be the first city in the U.S. to join the worldwide Blue Communities project.

Each Blue Community, from Canada to Europe and Brazil, has passed a series of resolutions with global and local implications. On a global level, Blue Communities support the United Nations resolutions recognizing the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

As well, they recognize the public trust that protects the waters and community uses of local watersheds.

Blue communities also resolve to promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services. Last spring, Northampton passed an ordinance on public ownership of water resources that fulfills the purpose of this resolution.

Finally, Blue Communities resolve to ban or phase out the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and at municipal events. Single-use water bottles create an enormous environmental problem.

Anh Speer writes on iSustainableEarth.com that Americans throw away about 1,500 water bottles every second. In 2014, the average American bought almost 280 pints of bottled water. At that rate, in Northampton, we are consuming between 5 million and 6 million pints (700,000 gallons) of bottled water per year.

A formal analysis in the journal Environmental Research Letters concludes that disposable water bottles, from manufacture and treatment to cooling and transportation, required 43 million gallons of petroleum in 2006.

You can visualize the energy cost of every disposable water bottle by filling the bottle one-quarter with petroleum. Some bottles have higher energy costs. Imagine the amount of oil needed to bring “Fiji Water” halfway around the world.

In 2016, we are wasting about 170,000 gallons of petroleum by drinking bottled water in Northampton.

The Container Recycling Institute estimates that Americans buy 43 billion single-serving plastic water bottles per year. Fewer than two in 10 are recycled. In Northampton, we pay to transport millions of used water bottles to faraway landfills.

The disposable water bottle problem presents a miniature version of the issues associated with climate change. The tsunami of disposable plastic bottles seems unstoppable. Disposable water bottles are clogging landfills and bodies of water throughout the world.

An initiative started in Canada — the Blue Communities program —provides a way of dealing with the water bottle tsunami. In March 2011, the city of Burnaby, British Columbia, became the first Blue Community in Canada.

The movement is spreading rapidly. In five years, over 20 other Canadian communities – from Niagara Falls, Ontario, to the indigenous community of Tsal’alh, St’át’imc territory – are part of the movement.

As well, the World Council of Churches, Zurich and Bern, Switzerland, Paris, and Cambuquira, Brazil, have become Blue Communities to change the ways that people think about water.

After passing the water privatization ordinance last spring, Northampton has a head start toward becoming the first Blue Community in the United States.

While not banning bottled drinking water in all situations, Blue Communities adopt the following framework:

1. They recognize the public trust that protects the waters and community uses of local watersheds.

2. They recognize access to water and sanitation as human rights.

3. They ban or phase out the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and at municipal events.

4. They promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.

One way that Blue Communities help people to reduce dependence on disposable water bottles is to provide “filling stations” for reusable water bottles in public buildings and some merchants and retailers.

Northampton has made a start by providing a public tap in the new Pulaski Park and refill stations at Smith College.

Becoming a Blue Community is a way for us, together, to be more thoughtful about our communitywide consumption, our community natural resources and our community carbon footprint.

Bill Diamond, of Northampton, is a member of the Unitarian Climate Action Group and teaches marketing at the Isenberg School of Management, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

 

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