As the first town in the world to ban bottled water, Bundanoon, Australia offers some inspiring words in a letter to the people of Concord, Massachusetts, set to become to first town in the USA to follow in their footsteps.
Hello all Concord residents,
I write to you from Bundanoon, a small town in Australia, a couple of hours south of Sydney. Some of you may know that last year we became the first town in the world to stop selling bottled water.
We called our initiative Bundy On Tap. We’re a bit smaller than Concord with a population of about 2,000. We’re a town situated on the edge of a huge national park and a town that depends upon tourism.
Last year I had the idea for the town to voluntarily give up the sale of bottled water. We had a well-informed community, given that we’d been fighting a water extraction plant for some years (a company wanted to truck 50 million litres a year from our aquifer to Sydney to stick in plastic bottles and then truck it around the country).
Almost 12 months ago, we held a community meeting to look at how we could do it. It turned into the largest community meeting ever in our small town and resulted in a 355 to 1 vote in favour of getting rid of bottled water. We did this by convincing the local stores that they’d do better without bottled water. That the sale of refillable bottles, the increased tourism and increased support (by way of dollars across the counter) from the local community would more than make up for any loss of revenue.
Our plan was to make public drinking water more available than ever before. We did this by installing four beautiful refill stations and water fountains across the town, including one at our local primary school. Also, many businesses installed chilled, filtered water units in their stores, cafes etc. Bundanoon officially went bottled-water-free on 26 September last year, on a day of great celebration for all ages. We ran bottled-water-free events such as our big Scottish festival, with 15,000 visitors. Free water was on hand from “water bars” at the festival and from mobile backpacks dispensing chilled water to fill people’s bottles or from paper cups. So easy.
Sending a message
What we didn’t account for was the massive worldwide coverage our plan received. Just about every major media outlet across the world covered the story. I did over 200 interviews in two days and town was crawling with TV crews from across the world. We had touched a nerve – a small community sending a message upwards. A message about the environment and a message about people making the right choices for themselves. Our state government followed by announcing the banning of bottled water that same day in all government premises.
We received hundreds of messages of support from across the world. Dozens of communities and municipalities have asked advice on how to reduce their bottled water consumption.
The bottled water industry was not very happy (of course) and has tried various initiatives to try to stop the bandwagon rolling on.
But the movement grows, and you, good people of Concord, are part of it. To succeed you must maintain the drive. (I’m thinking Jean Hill will not waver.) You must understand that the industry may try to unsettle you and you must, above all, focus on having good public water sources on the streets and in the parks. With this, the argument that you are somehow forcing people to drink “sugary” drinks fails completely. If you can look down the main street of Concord and see a water fountain or two then you are on the right track.
Tourists will love it, locals will love it. Have available refillable bottles in your stores and cafes.
In Bundanoon we didn’t actually “ban” bottled water. We have no legislation on it, no regulation. It is voluntary. In bigger towns such voluntary action becomes harder. It’s harder to get every business on side. But remember, by just having good public water sources, you will automatically reduce the amount of bottled water sold.
You will impact upon this most crazy and environmentally destructive of products – a product that is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the consumer age. Selling people what they already can have almost for free – in bottles produced from oil, 70% of which are never recycled.
So next Tuesday, 6 July, we gather again in our community hall for an anniversary party to celebrate a huge year for our small town. We will tell stories from around the world. Of the Facebook Page in Belgium with 3,000 members supporting a plan to make “I Bundanoon” a verb. Of school children in France learning of Bundanoon in their school books. Of the last bottles of bottled water from Bundanoon turning up for sale on eBay. We’ll raise a glass of beautiful Bundy on Tap to Jean Hill and all you Concord residents.
I’m sure you’ve got the bottle Concord. Go for it.
Find out more about the environmental impact of bottled water here, in The Story of Bottled Water video.