Monday, January 24, 2011

It’s Time to Ban Single Use Plastic Water Bottles

College sailing has banned single use water bottles from its events. Real rules against it! Sailors must drink from re-useable bottles and hosts must provide a source of water to refill those bottles.

The New England Scholastic Sailing Association (high school sailing) has approved the same policy on a voluntary basis.

Host schools and coaches are tired of finding bottles in their sailing waters, tired of picking up the empties after an event, and tired of disposing of the mountain of trash. The bottles are frequently discarded without recycling the plastic.

My first reaction to this information was totally selfish. How will addressing this inconvenience me? I take along bottled water when I sail and buy cases of it for high school regattas. My sailing facility does not have a readily available source of clean drinking water to provide to regatta participants. Is it really a big enough problem to warrant new efforts from me?

Upon looking into it, it IS a big enough problem. In fact, it’s big enough that I’m ashamed I haven’t changed my ways before now.

Some bottled water facts:

• 60,000,000 plastic water bottles are discarded EVERY DAY in America.

• Only 23% (highest estimate I’ve found) of plastic water bottles are recycled. The rest end up in landfills or worse, where they can leach chemicals into the ground water.

• It takes ½ cup of oil to manufacture and transport each bottle.

• It requires 3 times as much water to make the bottle as it does to fill it.

• In producing each bottle, the CO2 released into the atmosphere would fill 12 balloons.

• Bottled water costs between 200 to 10,000 times as much as tap water.

• Virtually every independent study on bottled water shows some contamination from bacteria and/or synthetic chemicals.

• Many of the leading brands are not mountain spring water, but merely tap water that has been run through filters.

A simple alternative is tap water in reusable plastic, aluminum, or stainless steel bottles. Reusable metal bottles can be bought for as little as $4 each when purchased in bulk. Plastic bottles are even cheaper.

If water quality is the issue, it should be comforting to know that the safety of tap water is more regulated than the safety of bottled water. Other quality issues depend on a comparison of specific bottled products to specific tap water sources. When necessary, filters are available to upgrade the chemical and mineral purity, odor, and taste of tap water. We can almost always find a suitable tap water source.

When you think about it, you have to admit that re-usable bottles and tap water, especially when filtered, would work in almost every situation where we commonly drink bottled water. It’s hard to rationalize the need for wasteful production and distribution processes and the harmful environmental consequences of single use water bottles.

We have two fundamental choices. As the saying goes, we become part of the solution or we are part of the problem.

Every time we refill a bottle, we reduce the number of new bottles by one, and we take a step in the right direction. 59,999,999 bottles on the heap. Our reuse might encourage a friend to do the same. 59,999,998 bottles on the heap. College sailors are doing their part, and now, so are many high school sailors. 59, 998,000 bottles on the heap.

Here’s a visual representation of the rate at which plastic bottles are discarded.

The internet offers lots of information of the subject. Here are some sites and videos that make the point in 13 minutes or less. website with a 9 minute video reviewing the problems with bottled water - water/ - offers an entertaining 10 minute video explaining the life cycle of single use bottles with an anti-bottled water industry tone.

Penn and Teller have a 13 minute entertaining video debunking the perceived quality of bottled water -

A short tap water vs. bottled water discussion -

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Path to FAIRNESS

The recent talk on Tillerman’s blog and discussion on the Laser Forum mark another milestone down a new road for laser sailing and perhaps a new understanding of the term “one design.” The old laser map to FAIRNESS directed us down one of two over priced toll roads (New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway), but the sailors’ free market, global positioning systems have recalculated and shown us another road. The new road is getting a lot of traffic, perhaps most of it, but there seems to be a question about whether both the old and the new are headed to the same FAIRNESS. One FAIRNESS is in the state of supplier to customer relationships, and the other is in the state of competitor to competitor relationships. I believe that they are sister cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Boston and Cambridge.
I contend that both roads will lead you to fairness among competitors. Despite the highway confusion, I think laser sailing is as fair and equal as any sailing, except for the influence of those damn #@*&^% mommy boats. I also think that the free market is more effective than the class rules in keeping it that way.

I don’t mean to promote a free market like some damn #@*&^% Republican politician with tunnel vision. Instead, I mean to encourage equity in the context of a little guy vs. big guy, David vs. Goliath story.

When it comes to sails, Big Laser has used its monopolistic position to exploit its customers for a long time now. They sell a lousy product (mediocre, at best) for a ridiculously high price, a combination of planned obsolescence and authoritarian pricing that would make any damn #@*&^% super-capitalist proud. To the customers, it seems like extortion. To Big Laser, it may just be making a living and keeping the wheels of business turning. After all, they are sailors and boat builders, not damn #@*&^% Wall Street bankers. I like to think that they did not anticipate that the requirement to use overly-expensive sails would come to undermine the universally acclaimed goal of fairness. BUT IT HAS. Many sailors can not or will not spend what it takes to keep up with those who have unlimited budgets. Do the class rules help even the playing field? Not so far.

Thankfully, the free market has allowed a young upstart like Jim Meyers at Intensity sails to jump in, make a living for himself, and fulfill a need in the marketplace. (Cue America the Beautiful in a medley with the Chinese national anthem – that’s where the sails are actually made.) From my talks with Jim, I understand his business to be mostly a response to overpriced products he finds in the market, most notably the class legal Laser sail. By giving us more bang for our buck, he is leading us to FAIRNESS in the state of supplier to customer relationships. He is giving us the same product for one third the price, complete with prompt and friendly service.

But is it really the same product? It sure seems to be. Jim says it is as close to the North sail as possible. (The North cloth is proprietary, so he uses the closest product he can find, which seems to be slightly more durable.) Sailors don’t seem to be finding any competitive differences. Although Intensity makes no claims about this, it seems to me that with its sails, we maintain FAIRNESS in the state of competitor to competitor relationships.

For several years now, more and more Intensity sails have been used for local club racing - to the chagrin of Big Laser (as I discussed last year). Tillerman reports that Cedar Point has altered their sailing instructions to include them. I did the same for our local regatta three years ago. In the two places I sail most frequently, there are far more Intensity sails on the water than North sails. I suspect that in the fleet as a whole in our local club there are at least five Intensity sails for each North sail. I wonder what percentage of North sail owners also have an Intensity sail or two.

The market is shouting its approval of equal or better products at lower prices. And the shout is increasing in intensity. (Pun intended.) Intensity sails will be seen more and more at bigger regattas. Is anyone going to complain that those of us in the middle (I wish) to the back of the pack are using them? Will we be asked to leave? (So far, I have been non-confrontational and have used my North sail at Regattas, even though I might do better with a newer Intensity.) Does anyone really think that the $180 sail has an advantage over the $563 sail? I think the only advantage is a new sail versus an old sail. If we could buy sails for $180, everyone would be more likely to have a new sail, and therefore a more level playing field. The rules say buying a $180 sail instead of a $563 sail is cheating, but common sense and the marketplace know that FAIRNESS is not the operative concept here.

The consternation over all this will continue to go on for a number of years, but the market forces will eventually win out in some way. The Intensity Laser class will thrive at the local and regional level, and we’ll all have fun and FAIR sailing. Big Laser will have to decide if it wants a separate class for world class and Olympic sailors or whether it should make some compromises to keep it all together. Assuming that those who make the rules and set the prices want to keep it all together, why are taking so long to do something about it?