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US Cities Promoting Tap Water as Eco-Friendly Choice

New York has joined the growing list of cities urging Americans to stop buying bottled water. The city recently launched an advertising campaign asking people to trade their bottled water for ordinary tap water. Environmentalists say the problem is not the water in the bottles, but the plastic the water comes in. VOA's Mil Arcega has today's Searching for Solutions report.

Americans are addicted to bottled water. But a growing number of U.S. cities are calling on Americans to kick the habit. Author Charles Fishman says people drink so much bottled water, it's starting to hurt the environment.

"Bottled water is something that you wouldn't suspect would have such a significant environmental impact," says Fishman.

But scientists say it does. Last year, Americans consumed more than 30 billion bottles of water. Most of the bottles -- about 80 percent -- end up in landfills. Laid end to end, that's enough non-biodegradable plastic to circle the Earth more than 150 times.

That's why Salt Lake City banned bottled water at a recent outdoor jazz festival. Mayor Rocky Anderson calls it a marketing scam and refuses to spend public money to pay for it. Instead, the city served ice-cold tap water served in recyclable cups.

"We just need to get away from these wasteful, environmentally disastrous consumer habits that have been developed and get back to drinking water out of the tap," says Anderson.

Experts say the widely held perception that bottled water is better than tap water is simply not true. Mark Pastore, who runs an upscale restaurant in San Francisco, has taken bottled water completely off the menu. "It seems kind of foolish to be serving water in a glass or plastic bottles when we have great tap water here," says Pastore.

Experts say another reason to switch is that transporting bottled water burns a lot of fuel. Bottled water from France for example, must travel more than 8,000 kilometers to reach a store shelf in Chicago. Allen Hershkowitz with the Natural Resources Defense Council says it is a wasteful process that creates greenhouse gases.

"It's ironic that on some of the labels of the bottles, you see snow-capped mountains and glaciers when in fact the production of the bottle is contributing to global warming," says Hershkowitz.

But Joseph Doss, head of the International Bottled Water Association says his industry is being unfairly singled out.

"Any effort to reduce the environmental impact of packaging has to focus on all consumer goods and not just target bottled water," says Doss.

Doss cites industry-based initiatives to introduce corn-based, eco-friendly plastics. He says some companies also are donating a portion of sales to help water projects in developing countries. Environmentalists say if people really want to keep the world as pristine and clean as these labels suggest, cut back on the bottles.