Self-imposed bottled water bans let restaurants make their own decisions

Self-imposed bottled water bans let restaurants make their own decisions

They had me at hello, but sort of lost me further along the way.

I’m talking about the recent press conference held by water conservationist Riverkeeper and nonprofit consumer group Food & Water Watch, at which both groups asked New York restaurateurs to ban the sale of bottled water at their establishments and instead serve tap or purified water.

The two groups kicked off the initiative, called “Take Back the Tap,” at Gemma restaurant in lower Manhattan, where owner Sean MacPherson and his general manager, Eric Rosenfeld, pledged they would serve their customers tap and filtered water only.

The group opposes the sale of bottled water because it says the empty containers end up in landfills, where they take an inordinate amount of time to decompose. The group also noted the large carbon footprint associated with trucking in all those cases of bottled water from producer to user.

Gemma’s Rosenfeld stated that despite the slowed economy and the potential for increased revenues from bottled water sales, he didn’t expect the restaurant’s self-imposed ban would have any real impact on profits.

“It was a quick decision to not buy and sell bottled water, which in the big picture is a small and easy step in helping the environment,” Rosenfeld said. “The margin on water, versus the amount of good you can do for the environment, is a small enough difference that everyone can make.”

There are other New York operators who have pledged to ban bottled water at their establishments as well. They include Il Buco, Bobo, Pure Food [3] & Wine, Gust Organics, Broadway East [4], Del Posto [5], Angelica Kitchen and Bar Milano, just to name a few. Food & Water Watch said its goal is to get 1,000 local restaurateurs to give up bottled water. The group also said it intends to have Mayor Bloomberg ban the sale of bottled water at official city government buildings as well.

So far my glass of tap water had remained half full.

But then Alex Matthiessen, Riverkeeper’s president, got up to address those of us assembled at the event. After thanking us for attending, he essentially said the bottled water industry was responsible for destroying the “constituency of community that drinks tap water” by creating a false impression that the local supply is not as safe as the bottled variety, and, as a result, people are not interested in protecting it.

I’m not so sure that’s true. While in my less politically correct moments I sometimes enjoy bottled water, I also enjoy drinking tap water and want to keep it as safe and pristine as possible. And I suspect many people who enjoy a bottle of water here and there feel the same way. While I applaud all efforts to protect the environment, I don’t think I’m ready for the tap-water police to tell me where and how I should imbibe my H2O [6]—bottled or otherwise.