Turn on the tap

  • May 22, 2007
All those letter-writing campaigns and petitions do occasionally hit their mark. Recent evidence can be found in the growing tide of opinion against the current mega-fashion of buying bottled water.
Canadian churches first raised alarm bells about the privatization of what had once been commonly assumed to be a public good: a clean, healthy source of potable water. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, in fact, was in the forefront of a campaign to raise public awareness about how many Third World communities were watching with concern as their public water supplies fell into the hands of private corporations. Included in this initiative was a pointed critique of how private enterprise was tapping into the earth’s freshwater supplies, paying a pittance to the public authorities, and bottling the stuff for resale.

Today, the plastic bottle of water is ubiquitous. It seems no one can go for a 30-minute walk without carting along a bottle to ward off dehydration. The drawback of this concern for personal health, however, is a mountain of disposal plastic bottles that consume energy in their manufacture and subsequently in their recycling, or disposal. No matter, bottled water has become a highly lucrative multinational enterprise.

Fortunately, church groups have been having some success lately in changing public attitudes toward bottled water. Conference organizers have begun demanding that water provided by meeting facilities come from the tap, instead of the bottle.

Science is now jumping into the fray, offering new research that shows the supposed superiority of bottled water over the mundane liquid that pours from our taps turns out to be an urban myth. The City of Toronto has taken advantage of the change in perception to encourage people to turn on the faucet once again. Less praiseworthy, however, is the city’s plan to bottle its own water to compete directly with private enterprise. If it isn’t good for the goose, it’s not any better for the gander.

There is nothing in the Bible that says “Thou must avoid bottled water.” Nor in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for that matter. Even our much-vaunted social teaching is silent on the matter. But that doesn’t mean that Catholic teaching is neutral.

How public goods are used is a moral issue. More and more, the Catholic Church is becoming aware that the Christian call to be good stewards has a global dimension, one that is inextricably tied to environmental protection. Catholics are called to use the Earth’s resources wisely and fairly, with an eye to protecting the earth as well as caring for those who have least. The debate over whether or not to consume bottled water falls into this moral obligation.

At the very least, Catholics have an obligation to become better aware of the health, environmental and economic issues surrounding bottled water — then to act according to their conscience.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.