Frequently Asked Questions about our Say No to Nestlé Campaign

Why is Nestlé the target?

Shouldn’t we target consumers rather than companies that have not done anything wrong?

Just as with any issue, things change. Smoking was once regarded as acceptable but laws and regulations changed how it was sold, taxed etc. because it was recognized that an update to these regulations was needed to protect not only smokers but also those around them. It is the same for water, the regulations of 3 decades old and the negative effects, although not always visibly evident, of packaged water need to be minimized. Therefore new regulations are underway.

The goals and activities of the Wellington Water Watchers are focused on changing policy, not on targeting individual companies. Consumer education is important (and we do a lot of that work), but changing outdated regulations is important work too.

Sometimes the rules need updating because of new and unanticipated developments that exploit loopholes in the rules and undermine their effectiveness. Ontario’s Permit to Take Water (PTTW) system was created 30 years ago to give farmers and other value-added industry access to water. As Premier Wynne herself has noted, no one anticipated at that time that there would be a market for packaged water, so no provisions were built into the PTTW system to properly assess the related permit applications. As a result, we are in the ridiculous situation in Ontario where multi-national companies that pump the water into plastic bottles and truck it out of the watershed to maximize shareholder profits have the same access to water as farmers, for example, who grow our food. We believe this needs to change, and the Provincial government appears to agree with us.

Why don’t we focus on telling consumers: “if you don’t like bottled water, just don’t buy it”?

Not buying plastic water is a start, but the water bottling industry has implications for all of us, whether we participate in it or not. As long as someone, somewhere is willing to buy plastic water — and as long as we let them — water mining companies will continue extracting water from beneath our communities and spewing plastic bottles into our streams and ditches by the millions every day. Recent developments in both Centre-Wellington and Aberfoyle demonstrate quite clearly that water mining companies will not just continue operations but will seek expansion, if we allow it, even when it conflicts with long-term public needs and even when the local water system shows signs of stress.

Why single out Nestlé? What about other water users, like pop and beer?

Nestlé happens to be the company here in Wellington County who packages water into single-use, disposable plastic bottles. It could be any company and we would be engaging in the same campaign to change the regulations. The Permit to Take Water PTTW system was never intended for the wholesale extraction and removal of water for pure profit and not for value added, such as beer or other beverages. It was designed for in-process manufacturing, agriculture and municipalities in order that the province could monitor and regulate water to those uses. It did not foresee the mere removal of water for resale. Water flows from our taps and is considered by many as a commons, not a product to be sold for a profit. By drinking tap water, we keep it local. We want to see all beverage containers, not just water be put into returnable re-useable glass bottles, as we used to do, not even 20 years ago.

Isn’t it only a small amount of water that Nestlé and other water packagers take compared to the overall withdrawals in the province?

These types of water takings are highly concentrated and focused on the very highest quality water available. They take a lot of water where they are located and compete with local needs including other industry that use the water for value added. It is misleading when water-packaging industry claims that they only take a small amount because they are taking groundwater not surface water. It is like comparing apples and oranges. Water that even enters a turbine at a power plant or water that is used to irrigate crops shows up in these figures including water used in mining etc. We oppose any use of water that is reckless and harmful to the environment. Nestlé is currently permitted to draw up to 4.7 million litres per day just in the lower section of Wellington County alone and seeks another 1.6 million litres per day at the Middlebrook well. All of this water is removed and leaves the ecosystem from where it is pumped. It is put into plastic packaging that becomes waste. This is inherently unsustainable and attaches with it a huge carbon and solid waste footprint.

Doesn’t Ontario have more water than it needs?

Ontario has a lot of water but the vast majority of it is not renewable and resides in lakes and needs treatment for drinking. Many northern communities live with contaminated unsafe water. Most of Ontario’s residents live in areas where there is great water stress including the Grand River Watershed that has seen unprecedented droughts and effects of climate change which has imposed strong water restrictions for most of this year. There is often a false perception that Ontario has more water than it needs.

I really like the convenience of having water available when I’m thirsty. If bottled water is not available, what can I do?

Changing habits is the biggest hurdle. Challenge yourself not to be part of the problem. What you do is important. Your choices make a difference. Lobby for the return of drinking fountains. Use your refillable water bottle and encourage your family and friends to do the same. Use filtration systems. Consider that water is a commons and in the public trust. Clean safe reliable drinking water should be available for all.

What is the Wellington Water Watchers’ position on boycotting all Nestlé products?

The Wellington Water Watchers has no position concerning the boycott of all Nestlé products. The Nestlé boycott has been initiated by the Council of Canadians and other groups. Wellington Water Watchers has no official participation in the boycott.

While we do not object to an individual’s or an organization’s decision to boycott Nestlé, we believe that the consumption of packaged water and corporate water-taking for packaging is wasteful, unsustainable and unjust regardless of the company involved. Moreover, we urge Ontarians – whether they participate in the Nestlé boycott or not – to get involved now in efforts to protect public groundwater supplies from corporate exploitation. We, in Ontario, have an opportunity right now to change the rules surrounding groundwater taking in this province for the better. For information on what you can do right now, please go here.

Nestlé Waters Canada in Wellington County

What is the situation in Wellington County?

Nestlé currently has access to up to 4.7 million litres per day, at two sites in Wellington County, and has interests now in a third well representing an additional 1.6 million litres per day.

Does Nestlé have a water-taking permit in Aberfoyle?

Nestlé Waters Canada’s national headquarters is located at their bottling facility in Aberfoyle where they hold a PTTW to take up to 3.6 million litres per day. Everyday in Aberfoyle, Nestlé makes millions of plastic bottles for a number of packaged water brands, including Pure Life, and fills them with groundwater pumped both from Aberfoyle and trucked in from Hillsburgh. Water pumped from their new well in Centre-Wellington, if permitted, would also be trucked to Aberfoyle for bottling.

Nestlé has applied for a renewal of their permit-to-take-water in Aberfoyle, as their 5-year permit expired July 1, 2016. This application has become increasingly controversial due to: evidence that pumping is impacting local water systems; the operation’s interference with long-term population growth needs; the impacts and uncertainty of climate change, and; the proliferation of plastic waste in ditches, streams, and fields all around the County. Currently, Nestlé has been granted an extension on their permit until the application can be officially posted.

I’ve heard about another Nestlé owned well in Wellington County. Is this true?

Nestlé Waters Canada currently holds a 5-year permit-to-take-water (up to 1.1 million litres per day) at a well just outside Hillsburgh, in Erin Township. A 24-hour a day stream of tanker trucks takes the water the 50 km distance through the towns and back roads of our county to the Aberfoyle bottling plant.

This permit has been controversial since the beginning. In fall of 2013, in response to tremendous and growing grassroots opposition to Nestlé’s pumping operations there, Erin town council passed a unanimous resolution opposing the renewal of Nestlé’s PTTW for the Hillsburgh well. The Province granted the permit renewal anyway.

Included in the permit, however, was a clause requiring that Nestlé quite modestly reduce its water-taking during periods officially identified as “drought”. Nestlé objected and appealed to an Environmental Review Tribunal to have the mandatory drought restrictions lifted. WWW, the Council of Canadians and Eco Justice fought the appeal, and facing increasingly bad publicity, Nestlé eventually withdrew their appeal.

Did Nestlé just purchase a well near Elora Ontario?

In fall 2016, Nestle purchased a third well in Wellington County — the “Middlebrook Well,” located just outside of Elora. Nestlé’s purchase of the Middlebrook well has been particularly controversial because the Township of Centre Wellington needs that well in order to accommodate population growth and put in a bid to buy it before Nestlé’s bid closed. Nestlé now owns the well.

Nestlé has applied for a pump test for the Middlebrook well, with plans to apply for a PTTW thereafter. The current proposed moratorium on new permits for the purpose of bottling water will ensure that these permit applications will not be granted for a 2-year period, and after that will be subjected to new regulations governing groundwater taking. Nestlé has stated that it has no intention of divesting itself of the Middlebrook well property any time in the near future.

What is the impact on local agriculture of bottled water permits?

Packaged water competes for the very best water possible, not the worst water or water that needs upgrading and cleaning. Excessive consumptive pumping inevitably depletes local sources and this will impact the amount and the quality available for agriculture.

There is only so much water in any given area which means that competition varies. In short, packaged water is non-essential use of our water that is not providing benefit to current and future generations.

The permit to take water system

What is the EBR?

It is the Environmental Bill of Rights. Anyone who is a resident of Ontario, (do not have to be a citizen), is represented by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) who critiques all issues pertaining to the environment and reports these issues to Queens Park. The ECO is a non-partisan professional with a team of experts. The EBR enables all residence of Ontario to comment on resource extractions including water-taking permits on the Environmental Registry. Ontarians are the only people in Canada to our knowledge with this right.

What is the moratorium I’ve read about?

The Ontario Government has adopted a 2 year moratorium on new or expanded permits to bottle water. This gives us time to make sure the Ministry makes needed changes to regulations governing Permits-To-Take-Water (PTTW). New water regulations and ground water science protocol are being developed and will be applied to new and existing permits for this industry.

What can/should I do about it?

Please educate yourself on this issue. See our Wellington Water Watcher’s speaking points and formulate your own opinion about how you feel about the moratorium and this type of water taking. Make a comment on the Environmental Registry before December 1, 2016.

How are these types of permits different from other type of permits?

The Permit-To-Take-Water (PTTW) system was never intended for the wholesale extraction and removal of water for pure profit and not for value added. It was designed for in-process manufacturing, agriculture and municipalities in order that the Province could monitor and regulate water to those uses. It did not foresee the mere removal of water for resale.

Why don’t we just charge more for the water?

When companies apply for a Permit-To-Take-Water (PTTW) in Ontario, they are charged a fee of $3.71 per million litres of water taken. The costs paid for water taking permits need to balance the administrative costs associated with managing permits and the risks to the environment they pose. Not all permits are similar with many having no to low impact and others inducing harm to local ecosystems and aquifers. Some permits require a lot more resources (i.e. staff time) and should therefore pay more. Historically, water-bottling permits require disproportionally high amounts of Ministry time and effort to evaluate and process, and the related charges should reflect this. We do need to charge more for PTTWs.

But the truth is… no matter how much the permits and the charges for the privilege of taking Ontario water may cost, it can never replace the value of keeping our water in our watersheds. The pristine glacial melt locked in deep aquifers needs to be stored there for the benefit of our ecosystems and for future generations, not packaged and shipped out.

Isn’t the Government increasing the cost of water?

The Government of Ontario has proposed an increase in the amount that Nestlé and other water bottlers would be changed to bottle Ontario’s water. Although we are pleased that the Ministry is showing a willingness to take steps to protect Ontario’s ground water, no amount of money will bring water back once it is bottled and permanently removed from the watershed.


Environmental Footprint

Doesn’t recycling take care of the plastic waste?

Recycling is noble but it’s not the answer. Not buying the plastic in the first place is the best answer. It’s not just empty water bottles and beverage bottles that are the problem. All plastic is a problem. But starting with eliminating unnecessary plastic is the first step. We are a society addicted to plastic. Every piece of plastic ever made is still on our planet.

Bottled water… is it really adding to environmental stress?

There are so many reasons packaged water is not environmentally sound, especially when you think in terms of the entire life cycle of a bottle of water – cradle to grave.

To start, follow the CO2 created while trucking water from pump to bottling plant; taking the bottles from bottling plant to distribution centre; from distribution centre to major retailer distribution centres; from these locations to our stores and from our stores to our homes/work places.

Not done yet. After the bottle is empty there is even more unnecessary CO2 created. When the plastic is discarded, the best case scenario is it will be collected through curb side waste management systems and trucked to a municipal recycling centre for secondary sorting, Again it is trucked from the municipal recycling centres to larger facilities where is can be down cycled and used again or it may be shipped abroad. The recycling process is tremendously CO2 intensive and requires lots of energy. Our tax dollars are being used for much of this cycle, adding to the tax burden we already have.

The reality of this is that lots of plastics are not recycled and with the price of oil being low, companies choose to use new raw materials for their plastic needs. It takes ¼ a bottle of oil to make just one bottle for bottled water. This doesn’t seem like much, but it you think about a company that is pumping say… 3.6 + 1.1 million litres a day, those 4.7 litres of water will be bottled in 9.4 million 500 ml, single serving, single use bottles per day!

That’s a lot of bottles every day! That’s a lot of oil too! We know we have to curb our oil dependence, what a better way to start than by saying “No” to something we really don’t need, water wrapped in toxic plastic packaging, when most of us can just turn our taps on! The fact is, that plastic is not biodegradable, and it’s photodegradable and never fully decomposes. On top of this, the process of decomposing takes hundreds of years.

Since plastic will not biodegrade, when it breaks down it forms smaller and smaller bits. These bits are not the end. As plastic decomposes, the chemicals used to make the plastic leech into the soil and water. At this stage, they become part of our food chain. Just have a look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, – one of five world gyres, reputed to be plastic soup. This isn’t just happening in our oceans. The Great Lakes are drowning in plastic as well.

Emergencies and packaged water

Don’t we need bottled water for Emergencies?

There are circumstances where packaged water is needed as a short-term solution, but it shouldn’t be the default. We need to work harder to be sure that potable water is available to all. This should be our right. Our governments need to make this a top priority. Where water is not potable and replacement water is temporarily needed, using large containers that can be refilled is the answer, not single-serving, one-time use, disposable 500 ml bottles.