Nestle Water Controversy: It's Time For A Garbage Charge Right At The Till
By Terri Chu
Nestle outbidding the town of Centre Wellington for control of a crucial water source demonstrates how cavalierly we’ve been treating our natural resources in Canada.
Paying less than $4 per million litres, Nestle and other water bottling companies are sucking dry groundwater resources at the expense of the next generation.
Considering that water sells for about $2 per half litre, the paltry sum it is paying to the government is laughable.
The greed of Nestle may have backfired this time, as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised to review how water permits are granted in the province.
But that's not enough.
In a country where water flows freely out of the tap, I would argue that selling water should be banned anywhere municipal water fountains exist.
Exceptions can always be made for states of emergency, such as when the Labatt Brewing Company demonstrated how quickly it could turn a beer production line into water canning during the Fort McMurray crisis.
Though I’d love to see legislation against the sale of water, banning a dumb product would be the antithesis of the capitalist free market values much of this society is built upon. And you can buy as many Snuggies and “flushable” bum wipes that you want in a free world. That shows that banning a single item doesn’t solve the problem of other wasteful products.
So perhaps a better market mechanism would be to charge per unit of garbage produced.
In a dream world, consumers wouldn’t just take products home and dispose of the garbage without ever thinking about it again.
The cost of garbage should no longer be externalized. Make it front and center and make it law.
For example, imagine if each kg of garbage that accompanies a product was paid for at the till?
How many times do we buy a small item at the store only to find it encased in gigantic plastic packaging?
Would the trend of buying sugar water in plastic give way to powders we can pour into reusable bottles at the fountain? A surcharge large enough to kill the Keurig pod would be every environmentalist’s dream.
If the government scrapped garbage fees from municipalities and paid for it instead upfront by charging a cost per unit mass at the till, consumers would think twice about buying wasteful stuff. (Products that go full circle like reused beer bottles, cans, and post-consumer recycled packaging could be exempt.)
When nobody sees the cost, nobody conserves.
At $10/kg, an additional 19 cents would be added (at the till) to each water bottle. A $20/kg of garbage surcharge would add 38 cents to the average bottle of water. That’s 38 cents more than the tax base receives otherwise for getting sucked dry.
Charging for the mass of garbage at the till also eliminates the need for municipalities to get creative in how to charge for pick up for its most wasteful consumers. Toronto could get rid of the silly sized-based bins as those producing the most trash already pay for it upfront.
We could make garbage pickup and disposal free by charging for it at the front end. Efficiencies would skyrocket and waste would likely go down.
It’s time to stop subsidizing consumption and hit high consumers in the wallet. A direct, mass- based garbage surcharge internalizes an otherwise external cost.
Until we stop hiding costs, we will not change behaviours.
Nestle only highlights the extreme ridiculousness of buying “artesian” water. We need to create good public policy that strikes at the core of the problem.
Producing garbage is free. It needs to get more expensive.