Committee seeks more information on water buggy that could curb single-use plastics

From left, Lynne Rochon and Robin Lunn asked councillors to look into the purchase of a portable water station for Prince Edward County. (Chad Ibbotson/Gazette staff)




County staff will be investigating the purchase of a portable water station to be used during local events.

During last week’s committee-of-the-whole meeting councillors supported a motion directing staff to prepare a report on the cost to purchase a portable water station or “water buggy” that could promote the use of reusable containers while helping reduce the use of disposable plastic water bottles. The mobile stations can cost approximately $50,000.

The report could also look into ways the municipality might reduce the use of disposable plastics in its operations.

The motion followed a deputation from Council of Canadians Quinte representatives Robin Lunn and Lynne Rochon who recommended the municipality purchase the water buggy to be used by residents to fill personal water containers at community events. They also asked that March 22 of each year be recognized as World Water Day in Prince Edward County.

“The Council of Canadians is a leader in initiatives to protect Canada’s freshwater sources,” said Lunn. “Our campaign work focuses on recognizing water as part of a shared commons — water is a human right and as such must be protected from privatization, pollution, and bulk water exports.”

One of the greatest threats to the world’s freshwater resources, Lunn said, is the proliferation of plastics — disposable water bottles being one of the worst offenders.

“It’s turning up in oceans and rivers everywhere,” she said. “Even in Ontario, where we have the blue box recycling program, we still send 65 million of these bottles annually to our overfilled landfills.”

That’s in addition to all other plastic food and drink containers. Lunn argued the blue box program was never designed to handle the “tsunami” of plastics. She said the County could follow the lead of neighbouring municipalities and try to curb some of the use of the plastic bottles by providing a place to refill personal containers. Similar mobile stations are available in Quinte West, Belleville, and Kingston.

“This is the environmentally-friendly way to provide safe, healthy water to patrons of our scores of events, festivals, concerts, fairs and other gatherings,” said Lunn. “It’s a great educational tool as well.”

The Kingston water buggy has a stainless steel tank that can hold 1,400 litres. It can also be connected to municipal water for a continuous water supply. Each full tank can potentially divert 2,800 plastic bottles from waste disposal sites.

“Everybody who sees the mobile water station realizes that this is the responsible thing to do,” Lunn said. “It just makes sense, it’s a proactive action that allows people to participate in, and feel good about, helping to save our environment.”

Lunn said Quench Buggy, a manufacturer based in Meaford, Ont., produces the stations at cost of about $50,000 although there are other options.

Rochon said changing lifestyles, such as the colossal reduction in physical newspaper readership, have exacerbated the plastic problem. She said the move to more plastic in blue bins has led to flatlining recycling rates and rising costs for municipalities.

“The blue box has huge challenges that it did not have 10 years ago,” she said. “The problem is that we are throwing out a huge variety of new types of packaging, mostly plastics, sometimes glued to other materials like metals.”

Materials that were designed to collect, sort, and reuse well make up a shrinking proportion of recycled items, she said.

“Newspaper used to be the backbone of the recycling program because it is easy to recycle and is worth a good bit of money but, with the new technology, a great deal of that has disappeared,” said Rochon.

Councillor Barry Turpin was among those who supported investigating the purchase. He said it was a good idea and encouraged the public to use measures already in place to reduce waste.

“We do have a blue box operation here and it’s very successful, but too many people don’t use it,” said Turpin, who sits as council’s representative on the Centre & South Hastings Waste Services Board. “…This is a great idea but, if you’re going to use a plastic bottle, make sure it gets recycled — we need to encourage recycling as well as this and we need to do it more.”

Councillor Lenny Epstein also supported investigating the water buggy.

“As a municipality, as a council, we should be thinking about these kinds of things and thinking long term,” he said. “…Reducing is the first ‘R’ and we don’t want to forget about that.”

While he said he was open to the idea of purchasing a water buggy, he said he couldn’t fully support the purchase at this point. Epstein put forward the motion to have staff prepare a report on the cost as well as look into ways the municipality could reduce its own use of plastics.
“There might be simple things that we can do like at our arenas where we’re giving out plastic straws, maybe we could do paper straws instead,” he said.

No timeline for the report was given.