Bottled water banned from state budget

By Jonathan Jacobson

Employees in Illinois state agencies are about to have something to talk about around the water cooler – until Nov. 16.

Following in the footsteps of municipalities and states across the country, Illinois’ Department of Central Management Services has decided to ban state agencies from using state funds to purchase bottled water beginning on that date.

“This was a cost-saving measure to make policies consistent from agency to agency,” said Sue Hofer, spokeswoman for the department, a state agency that works to improve efficiency in state government.

Hofer said the directive will cover everything from bottled water to water coolers but only apply to those agencies operating under the governor. The ban will not affect the University.

“In times of tight budgets, we want to be consistent,” Hofer said. “If employees and offices make a decision that they want to have a bottled water service, they need to pay for it.”

A memo, sent on Oct. 29, stated that the agencies were free to set up employee “water funds,” which would allow employees to chip in for bottled water if they want to stay away from the tap.

Elizabeth Austin, a spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, said that although Quinn’s office technically does not operate under the governor, it still must be “in substantial compliance with CMS directives.”

Austin would not elaborate on what “substantial compliance” involves.

“Maybe we get smaller bottles,” she said.

Other states and cities have been working to adopt similar measures to curb bottled water use. San Francisco recently enacted sweeping bans on city purchases of bottled water, and Salt Lake City’s mayor has been an outspoken critic of bottled water.

A 10-cent bottled water tax was even included in Chicago Mayor Daley’s recent call for a tax increase.

The $11 billion industry, though, will probably be unaffected. According to data from the International Bottled Water Association, sales of bottled water are at an all-time high. Revenues in 2001, by contrast, were $6.8 billion, and the United States leads the world market in total consumption, with the average American drinking 26.1 gallons of bottled water annually.

But representatives of Corporate Accountability International, an organization working to keep cities from purchasing bottled water, said the state’s ban is a step in the right direction.

Elizabeth Martin-Craig, the organization’s Chicago coordinator, claimed that consumers are tired of “corporations controlling our water.”

She said that 40 percent of the time, bottled water comes from the same source as tap water.

In fact, PepsiCo recently gave in to pressure to reveal on labels that its Aquafina brand, the largest U.S. provider of bottled water, comes from a “public water source.” Previously, the label read “P.W.C.”

“People are starting to think outside the bottle,” Martin-Craig said.