Young activist’s blue campaign is all wet
Thirteen-year-old Robyn Hamlyn was in Meaford, Ont., last week, explaining water policy to a rapt city council. Inspired by the Maude Barlow documentary Blue Gold: World Water Wars, Hamlyn has spent the last year travelling around Ontario lobbying city councils to become blue. “Help me save our water. I can’t do it without you,” Hamlyn has pleaded to various mayors and councils. So far, she has won the support of Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and four other Ontario municipalities, and doesn’t plan to stop until every community in the province is blue.
Blue Communities, conceived by the Council of Canadians (COC) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) along with activist Barlow, aims to protect Canada’s fresh water. To become a blue community, a municipality must ban the sale of plastic water bottles from public facilities and municipal events, must have a publicly funded and operated water system, and must deem water a human right.
Robyn Hamlyn believes Canada’s fresh water is a shrinking resource. As she stated in a March speech to the Council of Canadians, “We have to act now, instead of later. I get frustrated with people getting hung up on small details and when they should be looking at the bigger, more scarier picture.” What some Ontarians find scariest in this picture is the realization that municipalities take their advice from a 13-year-old.
Should plastic bottles be elevated to the top of anyone’s environmental agenda? Stewardship Ontario estimates that plastic water bottles make up less than one-fifth of 1% of the municipal solid-waste stream in Canada. In addition, 96% of Canadians say they recycle their plastic water bottles. If water is banned from municipal events, those present won’t go thirsty — they’ll purchase other, often less-healthy alternatives, such as pop, which is, incidentally, composed almost completely of water. Diet Coke is 99% water — privately owned water.
Hamlyn advises municipal councillors that bottled water may actually be less clean and safe than tap water. In reality, the opposite is true: Bottled water has never caused an illness in Canada, whereas tap water has sickened many, most notably in Walkerton, Ont., in 2000, where seven people died and 2,300 suffered from a strain of E. coli.