ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis-based health care organization is turning to the tap, eliminating bottled water at its hospitals as part of an effort to be more environment-friendly.
The bottle ban begins Sunday at SSM Health Care’s 20 hospitals in four states. Bottled water will be eliminated from vending machines, won’t be sold in cafeterias, won’t be brought in for meetings. Patients and guests can get water in cafeterias using recycled paper cups. Employees will be encouraged to use reusable bottles or cups.
The company cites the environmental impact of making, transporting and disposing of bottles.
“This effort means that more than half a million bottles of water will be eliminated at SSM’s facilities each year,” Sister Mary Jean Ryan, president and chief executive officer, said Wednesday.
She said one of the biggest concerns is that it takes fossil fuels to both produce and transport the bottles. “Eliminating bottled water is a contribution we can make as a system to protect our fragile environment,” Ryan said.
SSM is one of the largest Catholic health systems in the U.S., operating in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. SSM employs more than 24,000 people. It claims to be among the first health care organizations in the nation to eliminate bottled water.
Bottled water sales continue to rise — up 8 percent in the U.S. last year. Industry figures indicate that the average Americans consumed about 29 gallons of bottled water in 2007.
Joe Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, wondered why water — an alternative to soda and other drinks still available at SSM facilities — is being singled out.
“Consumers drink bottled water because they want to eliminate or reduce the calories and additives in their beverages,” Doss said. “In our view it is not in the public’s best interest or health interest to take actions that will discourage consumers from drinking a healthy beverage.”
Boston-based Corporate Accountability International is spearheading a national “Think Outside the Bottle” campaign. Director Gigi Kellett praised SSM’s decision, and said other hospital organizations have also been in contact with the campaign and are considering a move away from bottled water.
“We’re starting to see people really looking at our public tap water as a better solution,” she said.
A handful of St. Louis restaurants in April announced they would no longer offer bottled water. St. Louis’ city government said it plans to stop buying bottled water later this year.