Wednesday, May 18

Tap water, please, and by right

The title of this article, “Tap Water, Please,” is from a campaign that we prepared in 2019 and launched in 2020 in Madrid different environmental, social, water defenders and neighborhood organizations as a human right. The reasons to defend the consumption of tap water are powerful. Water is a vital natural resource and a common good. Water, together with sanitation, are human rights, according to the United Nations since el July 28, 2010, through Resolution 664/292, and the public powers must guarantee its provision to the citizens. It must be managed with criteria of solidarity and cooperation, universal access, equity, democratic control and environmental and social sustainability.

Neoliberalism manages water for profit and has turned it into big business. For example, one of its manifestations is bottled water. It is a business that sells more than 6,300 million liters a year in Spain. It is achieved with strong advertising campaigns, despite producing numerous waste and other negative environmental impacts, being much more expensive and less safe. Spain is the fourth European country in production and the third in consumption of bottled water.

The progressive coalition government of PSOE and United We Can has promoted Law 7/2022, of April 9, on waste and contaminated soil for a circular economy. It establishes, in its article 18.3:

In order to reduce the consumption of single-use containers, public administrations will promote the consumption of drinking water in their premises and other public spaces, through the use of sources in conditions that guarantee hygiene and food safety or the use of containers reusable (…). For the same purpose, establishments in the hotel and restaurant sector must always offer consumers, clients or users of their services the possibility of consuming unpackaged water free of charge and complementary to the offer of the same establishment. ”.

Only by avoiding the generation of plastic waste derived from bottled water is this law justified. 59% of the plastic waste generated in Europe is packaging, according to data from the European Strategy for Plastic. In Spain there are 3,500 million plastic bottles a year and barely 25% is recycled.

But there are more social, economic and environmental advantages that guarantee the consumption of tap water, starting with its reliability and quality. Tap water is healthier and safer than bottled water, its controls are governed by health safety criteria, which are more demanding than those of bottled water that are governed by food criteria. As an example, the Canal de Isabel II in Madrid carries out a water analysis every five seconds, twice as much as required by law. In Spain, 99.5% of the total is tap water that complies with health quality guarantees. However, a very high percentage of bottled water has presented plastic microparticles harmful to health that come from the packaging, from the bottling process and storage time and exposure to light.

In addition to the specific measures that must be adopted for environmental sustainability, the context must be set to assess the importance of the actions and protect a strategic resource such as water. The latest Report of the United Nations Panel (IPCC) on climate change on April 4 comes to warn us that the time to react is dramatically running out: just eight years to cut greenhouse gases by 43%. All the measures we can take will be few. In this sense, public control of water and sanitation services allows water resources and ecosystems to be managed sustainably, taking into account the general interest and environmental and social aspects. The human right to water guarantees access to tap water for all citizens, regardless of their economic situation.

However, the private bottled water business aims to maximize profits by externalizing environmental impacts. From the uncontrolled capture of resources, the risk of over-exploitation of aquifers, production with controls other than those required for the potability of water, distribution with the generation of greenhouse gases and the use of packaging, in a good plastic part. The big business of bottling water produces millions of profits for the transnational food companies (Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsico, Danone, Coca-Cola, Pascual, Vichy Catalán, etc.) that invoice in Spain more than one billion euros per year. They achieve this by making a liter of bottled water, on average, 180 times more expensive if we talk about bottled water consumed at home and that in restaurants it can be 2,000 times more expensive. This has nothing to do with the common good. Springs are overexploited, which should not be managed from the point of view of commodification and business, in a scenario in which climate change brings us closer to hydrological collapse.

We can make progress in promoting the use and consumption of tap water; in the guarantee of water and sanitation as human rights that they are, in public spaces with fountains, freely accessible pumps, bathrooms and services in the streets and common spaces, as well as the establishment of a Vital Minimum law that ensures all person the availability of a vital minimum of water and the prohibition of supply cuts for households in conditions of economic and social vulnerability. The protection of water ecosystems, essential for life, should be managed by communities and public institutions with criteria of environmental conservation, universality and equity.

But let us value what modernization means and advance this law that will make bars, restaurants and hotel establishments have tap water in the first place. This places us at the level of the most developed countries, of cities like Paris or New York. It is over that in bars and restaurants they offer us bottled water directly due to the enormous economic benefits that the sale of this product gives us. Now we can say: tap water, please! And they will give it to us, because they have a legal obligation to serve it, and as educated people that we are, we will thank the restaurant and the planet will thank it.