ENGLEWOOD — The Englewood Center for Sustainability wrapped up its drinking-water film series Thursday with a panel to discuss ecology and water conservation with local experts at Buchan Community Airport Park.
The first topic was about the role bottled water plays in our society.
Dixie Stevens, chairwoman of the Sierra Club of Sarasota, said bottled water is good for business, but bad for consumers.
“As profitable as manufacturers found plastic containers to be, the contents within the plastic are harmful in the long term to people, and the environment in the long run,” Stevens said. “It would be more practical to not choose plastic in the first place.”
Ira Funderburk, general manager of Culligan Water of Sarasota, said demand is what drives the bottled-water industry.
“Plastics rule our life, and we can’t get away from them,” Funderburk said. “It’s about asking how can we be more environmentally conscientious.”
When asked about what steps people can take to be more environmentally friendly, Stephens said to refuse to buy plastic bottles.
“Hold manufacturers responsible,” Stephens said. “We can’t always recycle the bottles.”
“It comes down to consumers,” said Todd Tracy, Englewood Community Redevelopment Area Advisory Board member, and former member of the Englewood Water District board. “Everything in our lives comes down to plastic. I’m glad consumers are finally waking up, but plastic is cheap.”
But there are some positives.
Funderburk said bottled-water companies have stepped up, donating water to those in need during the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Japan. He mentioned bottle water is used in hospitals and nursing homes.
He said Culligan Water adheres to Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations. He added regulations are in place for the bottled-water industry.
The panel discussion followed the viewing over the past month of two documentary films, “Tapped” and “Blue Gold,” relating to the bottled-water industry and the world’s water supply.
EC4S board member Bobbi Marquis asked who owns Florida’s water.
“Florida owns all of Florida’s water,” Funderburk said. “Florida is also ahead of the curve when it comes to processing bottled water, compared (with) other states. What is pumped from Florida water is circulated back to consumers.”
Tracy said it was misleading to say Florida owns all the water, since somebody processes and regulates the water.
Following the panel, Funderburk addressed what the future might hold for bottled-water companies.
“There’s a manufacturer who’s looking into biodegradable plastic,” Funderburk said. “The factors of it would depend on the economics behind it, compared to the current cost of existing plastics. Most bottlers operate within a low margin. The International Bottled Water Association is always looking for ways to get more green and move forward.”