Found at www.Filterwaterdirect.com

Today, you can own almost anything. Anything. You can own it. If you or I were to talk with our great-great grandparents, they wouldn’t believe just how much someone in today’s world can own.

I’m not speaking so much about material goods; so much as I’m speaking to the wide breadth of ownership we experience every day. It’s not just land and goods anymore. You can own ideas, pictures, slogans, and even living organisms.

This ability to own things is known as privatization. Privatization is the tool which makes capitalism work. It brought us out of the dark ages, and produced our world today. But is making things “ownable” always good for society?

Many people think so. Members of the Fraser Institute, are some of them. In the documentary “The Corporation”, the president of the free-market powerhouse tells us that if we could find a way to privatize our air, we wouldn’t have any more pollution. Just like when someone owns a house or a car, the air would become the owner’s responsibility. They would care for it, and see that it isn’t polluted. Seems like a good idea, right?

There’s another part of privatization that needs to be talked about. Owning a house for instance means I can put up a fence. I can keep people out. If I wanted to, I could even keep you out!


Image from the India Resource Center

Over the weekend, I caught a story about a company who put up a big fence. The story is about a village in India. The village’s water wells have been privatized, and are now owned by Coca Cola. Coca Cola uses the wells to supply water for its Dasani bottled water product, which is enjoyed by thirsty people all over the world. That is, it’s enjoyed by thirsty people who can afford to buy it.

It seems that no matter how thirsty the local villagers become, Coca Cola’s financial fence keeps them out. Can’t afford this water? Too bad! Villagers have taken up strong protests against the bottling company. Rioters broke down a police blockade and protested the factory in the hope of soon quenching their thirst.


This picture can be found at City of Tulsa Water ServicesA similar story took place in Bolivia back in 2001. Like many countries during that time, Bolivia was struggling to develop its economy. Just like anyone who’s starting to develop a business, Bolivia needed a loan. And so just like a businessman, Bolivia went to the bank….the World Bank. The World Bank agreed to loan Bolivia money, but there were a few conditions. These conditions were called “Structural Adjustment Policies”. The World Bank wanted to make sure it would get repaid, so it required Bolivia to privatize many of its state-run services. All of a sudden, everything in Bolivia was for sale! Roads, hospitals, energy…… and water.

Bechtel, a US company, was awarded the contract to manage the water in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city. As part of the contract, Bechtel was promised a certain return on its investment. That money had to come from somewhere, and so Bechtel raised the rates. Copies of water bills show that household water bills increased by 60%! Almost instantly, water began to cost a lot than most could afford. The strain was too much, the people rioted, and one boy was killed and hundreds others wounded.


Stories like these lead me to believe that privatization may not be the golden answer to all our problems. There are some basic necessities to human life that we simply cannot fence. What if being poor meant you couldn’t breathe because you couldn’t afford air? What if it meant you couldn’t drink because water was too expensive? And when it comes to health care, food, basic shelter…well the answer is hard to say. Privatization may have brought us out of the dark ages, but can it also put us back in?

Where do we draw the line?

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We’re about to say “goodbye” to the tumblin’ urban tumbleweed. A Wednesday article in the Seattle Times highlighted Mayor Greg Nickels newest plan to help keep Seattle green. If approved by the City Council, Seattle grocery shoppers will be charged a 20 cents/bag “green fee” on every paper or plastic bag used at the grocery store. The fee would go into effect on January 1st. Judging from comments in the Times, no one seems to have seen this coming. So where did this crazy idea come from?

It boils down to two issues: the environment and money. Most people will nod their heads in agreement that plastic shopping bags and our planet’s well being don’t mingle. According to the EPA, the US alone consumes 380 billion plastic bags in a year. Even if only a fraction of these are thrown away, the environmental impact is still costly. After all, plastic never degrades – instead it breaks down into smaller and smaller toxic pieces. Those small plastic toxins can wreak havoc on wildlife and eco-systems.

www.fremantle.wa.gov.au

As always, the bottom-line is affected too. The Wall Street Journal estimates plastic bags cost the retail industry $4 billion a year (not counting environmental clean-up costs and other expenses). With food and energy (and most everything else) jumping in price, money spent on disposable bags is money being thrown away.

Although according to the Film and Bag Federation, plastic bags are saintly when compared against paper. Plastic grocery bags consume 40 percent less energy, generate 80 percent less solid waste, produce 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to 94 percent fewer waterborne wastes, according to the federation.

So what’s the right answer, paper or plastic? According to Nickels, “the answer… should be neither. Both harm the environment. Every piece of plastic ever made is still with us in the environment, and the best way to handle waste is not to create it in the first place.”

Although I’d love to claim Seattle blazed this trail of logic against waste, it wouldn’t be quite true. The paper/plastic bag fee idea is a pretty new idea in the US, but it is not the first of its kind. Back in 2002, Ireland established what it called a “plastax”; its own fee for plastic bags. Customers who wanted plastic bags were originally charged 15 cents per bag. Two months after the tax was put into place, the BBC reported that plastic bag use in Ireland had dropped 90%. Observers found a decrease in garbage, street litter, and drainage problems caused by plastic bags. The fee is still in place today, and plastic bag use continues to be minimal.

….. By the way, San Francisco placed a ban on plastic bags in 2007, but have yet to take a stance on paper bags.

For all the critics of this new plan, I have little sympathy. Changing a wasteful behavior on a city-wide scale is never completely painless…. but the “green-fee” is pretty close. Unlike gas taxes or carbon credit schemes, this idea is cheap. Reusable bags are easy to find and easier to use. My advice for those determined not to use a canvas bag – stock up now! If you save every paper and plastic bag from now until when this bill goes into effect, you’ll have more than enough bags to carry your groceries for years to come.

Shameless Plug:

Want to get a jump start on Seattle’s efforts to ditch paper and plastic bags? Why not start saving the planet today with your own Sustainability Is Sexy canvas tote! Impress your friends and family with this one-of-a-kind statement about the environment. It’s eco-friendly and sexy! Find your Sustainability Is Sexy shopping bag at www.SustainabilityIsSexy.com!

Plastic Bag Facts

(Poached from Reusablebags.com)

  • Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.
  • According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.
  • According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion)
  • According to the industry publication Modern Plastics, Taiwan consumes 20 billion bags a year—900 per person.
  • According to Australia’s Department of Environment, Australians consume 6.9 billion plastic bags each year—326 per person. An estimated .7% or 49,600,000 end up as litter each year.
  • Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.
  • Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.
  • As part of Clean Up Australia Day, in one day nearly 500,000 plastic bags were collected.
  • Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group harvests 30,000 per month.
  • According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone “from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere.
  • Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.
  • In 2001, Ireland consumed 1.2 billion plastic bags, or 316 per person. An extremely successful plastic bag consumption tax, or PlasTax, introduced in 2002 reduced consumption by 90%.
  • Approximately 18,000,000 liters of oil have been saved due to this reduced production. Governments around the world are considering implementing similar measures.

I just caught an article from the Seattle Times titled “City of Seattle Won’t Buy Bottled Water“. The article states that Mayor Nickels approved the order because of the positive environmental impact, as well as the financial savings the city will experience. By cutting out bottled water expenses at various city events, Seattle could save close to $60k a year.

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Besides costing more than tap water, bottled water has an array of negative environmental effects. Bottling water uses oil, energy, and natural resources. America’s water bottling industry burned 1.5 million barrels of oil last year. In addition, most empty bottles find their way into landfills.

“This is a matter of leading by example,” Nickels said. “The people of Seattle own one of the best water supplies in the country, every bit as good as bottled water and available at a fraction of the price. When you add up the tremendous environmental costs of disposable plastic bottles clogging our landfills, the better choice is crystal clear.”

I recently stumbled upon a website gathering pledges from people to stop using bottled water. I can’t find the blog that first posted the pledge (sorry unknown blogger), but if your a progressive individual who wants to fall in love with his or her tap water, sign up for the pledge! There’s also a quick collection of facts, some of which I poached for this posting. Check it out!

The public’s somewhat negative perception of bottled water is nothing new. Over the past year or so, it was revealed that several bottled water companies use tap water in their products. Many restaurants made headlines several months ago by taking bottled water off their menus in favor of tap water.

In my opinion, Mayor Nickels is doing one helluva job maintaining our lead as an environmentally progressive city. Better watch out San Francisco.  You may be one step ahead of us for now, but give it time…