Citing waste of energy and resources, high cost and health concerns, the Ashland Food Co-op on Wednesday will stop selling bottled water in single-use plastic containers.
The co-op in its newsletter alerted members about the change, urging them to "Take Back the Tap" by purchasing a colorful, $15 stainless steel bottle and filling it with tap water.
As they did when the co-op spearheaded the use of reusable cloth market bags, shoppers took the change with a minimum of complaining — and many said it's about time.
"It's a fantastic idea because all the bottles are not recycled. I never buy it. I use tap water. It tastes and smells great to me," Mary Ehlers said.
"I very rarely buy bottled water — only when I'm on my way somewhere and have forgotten my steel bottle," Ellen Falkner said. "I'm really, really worried about the plastic bottles, especially in warm weather countries. We were just in Israel and one person can drink up to 10 a day."
As she bought bottled, carbonated water in a glass container from Germany, shopper Zahara Solomon said she loves the taste and bubbles — but mostly drinks tap water from her steel bottle, which she fills at home with water from springs at Mount Shasta City or Tub Springs on Highway 66.
"(The ban) is going to be a little bit inconvenient, but it's ultimately a good thing. It's a change that needs to happen," Solomon said. "I'm willing to suffer short-term and I admire the co-op's courage."
Loading water in two plastic gallon bottles, Dave Johnson of San Francisco said bottled water is "inefficient and polluting" and he only buys it for camping.
The store is banning only noncarbonated, nonflavored water in plastic bottles smaller than a gallon, said Outreach Director Annie Hoy.
The move by the co-op's Sustainability Committee was triggered by a note in the suggestion box saying, "The companies that bottle this water abuse privatized water sources and drain natural aquifers. The plastic bottles add toxins to local landfills as well as our bodies."
Hoy agreed, saying, "Bottled water is tap water from someplace. It might be filtered. Local tap water is tested several times a day and the results are public, but bottled water is not required to be tested and they don't have to make the results public."
The co-op will continue to sell carbonated and flavored bottled water in plastic containers, but Hoy noted "change comes slowly for people and taking away the nonflavored and noncarbonated water is a first step to bringing awareness of how wasteful it is."
Hoy's article in the co-op newsletter noted bottled water can cost 89 cents to $8.26 a gallon, which is astronomically higher than the city's tap water — $1.90 for 1,000 gallons.
Production in the U.S. of plastic water bottles requires 18.6 million barrels of oil annually, according to the Web site www.takebackthetap.org. Eighty-six percent, or 2 million tons, of used bottles go to landfills, not recycling, it added.
Hoy said she's received one complaint — from someone concerned that Ashland purifies water with chlorine, a common practice. Some customers will be "really upset because we took away something they relied on and they're afraid of tap water. But there's a lot of misinformation out there about tap water," she said.
Ashland gets its water from Reeder Reservoir. The chlorine left from purification of the water will evaporate if set out for 10 or 15 minutes, Hoy said, adding that "bottled water also has to be purified somehow, and if they knew what it's been through, they might have second thoughts about it."
The city's Web site says Ashland has had no water quality violations and its water meets or exceeds state and federal standards. It adds, "Drinking water, including bottled water, may reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants (and that) does not necessarily pose a health risk."
Medford's water comes from Big Butte Springs near Butte Falls and is also piped to Eagle Point, Central Point, Jacksonville, Phoenix and Talent. It was named the best-tasting tap water in the Northwest by the American Water Works Association last year.