Monday, February 13, 2006

Bottled water and waste

Now the Greens have this as their latest guilt trip for consumers. Lindsay Mitchell agrees with them in part (and is probably slightly concerned about that).
People spending their own money to buy something they want – bottled water. This is despite the quality of tap water getting better and despite many people not knowing the taste difference.
A lot of that may be true. It may also be true that people are drinking more water, because of the health benefits, and that more people in air conditioned environments are feeling dehydrated. People buy bottled water for when they exercise, and travelling on planes and trains. Some (like me) buy bottled water because the tap water is foul (though I am in London) and I am prepared to pay for water that I prefer.
The main whine appears to be that people are wasting money – like they “waste” money buying petrol when they could be travelling by other means. It sounds just as paternalistic and school prefect like as the Christians are on sex. It may cost 10,000 times more to bottle water than reticulate it, but if people are willing to pay for it, it is no different than buying too many pairs of shoes – nobody else’s business!
However, a more substantive concern is “what about the plastic bottles”. Now there may be arguments that if people are replacing drinking other bottled drinks like soft drinks, then there is no net impact at all. Some bottles are recycled too. Regardless of that, there is a legitimate question.
Is the world going to be swamped with all these bottles using up land and making our cities and landscapes ridden with garbage?
“Our landfills are creaking” gives as image of mountains of rubbish about to spill over. There is plenty of land for landfills – think of where the main Wellington city one is in Happy Valley – vast acres of valleys and land to the west and south of it where landfills could exist with nobody being affected. It is more a matter of whether it makes economic sense. Bjorn Lomborg claims that the entire waste of the US for the 21st century, assuming the population doubles, would take up an area roughly 28 miles square and 100 feet high. Not exactly overflowing is it when the USA covers 3537441 square miles. It is no reason to not reduce waste, but one problem is the incentives.
Local government typically runs landfills and does not always operate them to make a profit, like an investment. If it did, the cost of using them would go up, increasing pressure for waste reduction and improving the economics of recycling. Ah, but people will tip rubbish in public areas you say. The tragedy of the commons - and something that tends to only occur on public land. Time to sell that land too, but in the meantime this is where law enforcement and councils could focus their efforts - sell the landfills and enforce laws against tipping. Littering is something that environmentalists spend far too little time being concerned about.


Rick said...

Goood blogin'

Julian Pistorius said...

Well-said, Scott. And I know exactly what you mean about environmentalists not spending enough resources on littering.

Back in university, I joined the environmental club. Yes, I was a greenie, and was even founding president of the environmental club at high-school. :) Aaaanyway, I thought that the members of the university club would go out and help to clean the rubbish out of Auckland's clogged streams, you know, setting an example and getting communities involved. Boy was I wrong.

We spent almost all our time in meetings discussing ways to remove people's choice, ie. stopping free enterprise, globalisation and telling people what they can do with their property.

I didn't last very long in there. I didn't know as much then as I do now, but I knew we weren't helping, we were harming.

Anyway, now I just take a plastic bag with me when I go for a walk, and clean up rubbish when I see it.


Rick said...


If we go for a walk I'll lead.

libertyscott said...

Good on ya Julian. I was a member of *SHUDDER* Greenpeace for a couple of mispent years, and tried to get them to focus on cleaning up the local environment, but they wanted nuclear disarmament blah blah blah.