Unbottling our water in Canada, with Daniel Jaffee

 [[{“value”:”Jaffee explains how the packaged water industry is transforming drinking water into a profitable commodity, putting the concept of water as a human right at risk.
The post Unbottling our water in Canada, with Daniel Jaffee appeared first on rabble.ca.”}]] [[{“value”:”

Bottled water is a complicated issue. 

Now the world’s most consumed packaged drink, the $300 billion global market of bottled water is led by four multinational giants – Nestlé, Danone, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

This industry is responsible for over 600 billion single-use plastic beverage bottles ending up in the garbage annually. 

But it’s not as if we can rid the world of bottled water. After all, one third of the world’s population lacks reliable access to safe drinking water through a faucet. 

So where do we go from here? 

I interviewed Daniel Jaffee about his new book: Unbottled: The Fight Against Plastic Water and for Water Justice. Jaffee is an associate professor of sociology at Portland State University. He says the book takes a critical look at how water issues intersect with social justice inequalities.

When you can’t trust your tap water 

Bottled water has traditionally been considered a middle and upper class purchase of convenience and status. But in the United States, the highest level of consumption of bottled water comes from low-income communities. 

In the US, seven to eight per cent of water systems have some kind of health violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act annually. These water systems are disproportionately located in low-income communities, communities of colour, and rural communities with groundwater contamination.

“Until we make the tap water trustworthy for everyone, we’re never going to solve this problem,” Jaffee said. 

The US has disinvested in its water infrastructure for the past 45 years. Jaffee sees the only solution being massive federal re-investment prioritizing environmental justice communities, Indigenous and communities of colour in an effort to combat historical structural racism and infrastructure neglect.

But, of course, it’s not just the United States facing this issue. 

READ MORE: New year, same poisoned water for Iqaluit residents

In Canada, Indigenous peoples living on reserve are the folks experiencing water racism. 

Six Nations of the Grand River, located along the Grand River in Southwestern Ontario, is the largest reserve in Canada by population and the second largest by land mass. There, over 91 per cent of households have no access to clean potable water. 

In Six Nations, many households spend upwards of $2,500 annually buying bottled water.

And while Six Nations has the technology to create clean water, it lacks the infrastructure to get that potable water to individual homes.

READ MORE: Six Nations youth leads protest against Nestlé water operation

Due to cost, the federal government wants to solve this issue incrementally taking several generations to complete the project – a timeline that would not be tolerated if this was happening in Ottawa or Toronto.

With enough pressure on the government, however, from activists – change can happen faster. 

In Jaffee’s book, he outlined the struggles in Cascade Locks, Oregon as well as Wellington County, ON.  

“The alliances between settler and Indigenous activists in both places I see as very powerful and very promising,” Jaffee said. “When Indigenous communities get involved in these struggles, especially invoking treaty rights, there’s the potential to jump scales over local decision-makers to federal, national courts and authorities in claiming treaty rights.” 

Commodifying what should be a human right  

No one wants to have to rely on bottled water to drink, cook their food, have a shower, or wash their hands. 

But until safe drinking water is accessible to everyone through a tap, bottled water is a necessary evil. 

It’s why we need grassroots groups to keep up the pressure in the fight for clean, public water. 

“We need to be very concerned because whenever a good that is essential for life becomes provided mainly, or entirely, through the market, access becomes based on the ability to pay,” Jaffee explained. “And some percentage of the population is inevitably going to go without.” 

A version of this article first appeared on Small Change.

The post Unbottling our water in Canada, with Daniel Jaffee appeared first on rabble.ca.

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