When serving its patrons bottled water, Park Tavern misunderstands sustainable practices

By Guest Columnist PATTY DURAND, a former director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club who currently works in the energy field

When I was a teenager I rode horses in the summer. The barn where I rode had a vending machine filled with Coke, Tab, Fanta grape and orange flavors, and Sprite.

After long hot horseback rides all I wanted to drink was water, but there was no water fountain at my barn. I was forced to drink Coke when that sugary sweet beverage was the last thing I wanted. I remember wishing the vending machine had chilled water but couldn’t imagine a company being able to sell a product that we get free out of our tap.

And now, 30 years later, I find myself on the opposite side of my teenage fantasy of chilled water from a vending machine: I don’t want bottled water to exist anymore. I don’t want it because 80 percent of the bottles aren’t recycled and so end up in the landfill or the ocean.

Also, producing bottled water is energy intensive, and at a time when global warming is at hand, we are looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions.

Patty Durand

Patty Durand

Lastly I don’t want them because they are completely unnecessary in many of the ways we use them.

Recently I ate lunch at the Park Tavern restaurant and was appalled to discover they are serving patrons chilled water in Aquafina water bottles at no charge.

The wait staff told me it’s because it’s easier for them than going back and forth bringing and refilling water glasses. I also learned they do not recycle these water bottles. While I was there I observed patrons giving their dogs water from the water bottles since Park Tavern has a dog friendly outdoor patio part of the restaurant. So, wow – now even dogs drink bottled water.

I followed up with Park Tavern’s owner Paul Smith to find out why he made this decision and to express my unhappiness at this lack of environmental ethic.

Paul let me know there were several factors at work, and he stood by his environmental ethic. First, Paul reminded me that Park Tavern supports the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. He cares a lot about the Chattahoochee River and the pressures the river is under serving a population of nine million residents. He continued by saying he thinks that trucking in bottled water is better for the river as he is not using local municipal water in his restaurant, at least not to serve patrons drinking water.

Paul also claimed that water used to wash glasses in commercial dishwashers is of much higher usage than the amount in water bottles so he is actually saving water by not washing glasses.

Lastly, he said it takes a lot of water to make a glass so that’s why he didn’t use water glasses before switching to water bottles. Park Tavern previously served water in small plastic cups.

This is completely wrong thinking: dishwashing is not a consumptive use. The water from a commercial dishwashing unit, and our units at home, too, is sent to the city water treatment plant via the sewer system like all of our household and business water where it is treated and then returned to the Chattahoochee.

plastic bottles on water

A photo of how plastic water and soda bottles damage the environment (Photo: Shutterstock)

The water used in manufacturing plastic is a consumptive use and is probably mostly evaporated in cooling towers. Plastic water bottles also use large amounts of plastic and oil resources to make the bottles – taking vast amounts of fossil fuels to ship heavy water.

Even if Paul were correct that his decision to serve patrons free water in water bottles is better for the Chattahoochee River (and he’s not), why then isn’t Park Tavern recycling the thousands of plastic water bottles they serve? Paul let me know that the City of Atlanta does not have a commercial recycling program.

This raises an important and probably the biggest issue here: Why doesn’t the city provide commercial recycling? I feel like a chump filling my little recycle bin every week when Park Tavern is sending thousands of water bottles to the landfill every day.

The city is getting accolades for their Better Building Program and LEED certifications while vastly underperforming in important ways that would make a big difference. I hope that Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, the city’s new director of sustainability, will choose to make commercial and multi-family building recycling a priority in her tenure.

Park Tavern

A view of the Park Tavern’s roof top (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Meanwhile, why is Park Tavern serving plastic water bottles to patrons who don’t even ask for water? I saw many partly or unconsumed water bottles left on tables. Their wait staff needs better training to bring water only upon request. It can also ask patrons to fill dog bowls with water that Park Tavern provides for dogs and not from water bottles.

Here are a couple of ultimate ironies: Park Tavern serves water in Aquafina water bottles, or did the day I was there. Both Aquafina from PepsiCo and Dasani from the Coca-Cola Co. originate from municipal water systems.

Could there be other restaurants operating under these misconceptions? If so, my hope is that Park Tavern and any establishments, upon reading this column, will change their ways and quit serving water bottles to their patrons.

Then we can all raise a tall glass of water to celebrate their embrace of more environmentally sustainable practices.

Note to readers: Patty Durand, who served as director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club from 2005 to 2009, spoke to Paul Smith a second time before the publication of this column. He claimed that his trash hauler “recycles” their waste, which they put in one bin – and started lecturing her on single-stream versus multi-stream recycling. Durand wasn’t sold because both Paul Smith and his wait staff initially had told her they don’t recycle the water bottles.

14 replies
  1. Steve Wise says:

    Interesting. One branch of the Sierra Club conducts bi-monthly meetings at the Park Tavern. Also, the City of Atlanta’s website says it collects hard plastics #1-#7. The Aquafina bottles are #1. I have no idea why Paul Smith thinks the city does not recycle them, nor why Patty Durand did not challenge him on such an absurd notion.Report

    Reply
  2. David Hamilton says:

    Ms Durand is certainly no stranger to misguided thinking as the Sierra Club played a major role in defeating the regional T-Splost– At the time I think she said this will make way for the legislature to enact a better plan. Clearly a dreamer of the unproductive kind–Report

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  3. David Hamilton says:

    It’s not the use of plastic water bottles that I take issue with– It is the Sierra Clubs very misguided stance on transportation and how to fund it that I find problematic.Report

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  4. Scott Chapman says:

    Coming from the business I see one side being lazy (servers) and the other side being cheap (the owner).
    While pitchers of water are heavier servers can set up stations in their service areas. Carry your supply there, refill as necessary. The owner can pony up equipment or modify the area to support the product movement from inside to outside.
    I want to say that wholesale Dasani is about $.60 a bottle so I don’t understand the math that bottled water is cheaper than tap. It’s been a while since I bought it in operations.
    Commercial dishwashers typically have a wash and rinse tank which are changed through out a shift. The final rinse is clean tap water.
    While the city doesn’t have a robust recycling program, there are other ways to recycle. My condo pays to recycle. It’s better than the dump.
    I hope a consultant reading this thread sees an opportunity to educate and make a case for reform. Restaurants can do much more to save water.
    It wasn’t long ago that the very grounds this restaurant sits on were burning up from drought. We can not continue to waste water and consume resources.Report

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  5. Landscape Architect says:

    The 2012 T-SPLOST heavily favored automobiles, and was a bad investment for the future of Atlanta. This is especially true in a state with a constitutionally static gasoline tax which can’t be used for alternative modes. Then factor in the sales tax affects all purchases, even groceries, and all people, even the poor, and the T-SPLOST was a born loser in Atlanta. The poor can’t carry more tax burden and the wealthy, with the tea party still in full bloom, we’re harping , “no new taxes.”
    The Sierra Club was right for opposing that legislation: it was a very large investment in the future of Atlanta’s transportation that lacked foresight. It was designed to fix traffic by further enabling sprawl. Essentially kicking a very expensive can further down the road.Report

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  6. Vince says:

    Agree entirely with Patty. I also stopped supporting the Sierra Club with there misguided opposition to T-Splost.  In any case here article points up many of the issues of why environmental choices are so complex. They are a combination of science, values and policy. Always a tough combination to sort out.Report

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  7. JDATL says:

    Thank you for this story. Our  addiction to bottled water is troubling. There s a whole generation of entitled children who won’t even drink from a tap. I believe the real reason Park Tavern is serving Aqufina is they are getting it free from Pepsi and compensated to do so. For the same reason the patio area is named and sponsored by Southwest Airlines.Report

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  8. johnradams says:

    To serve bottled water at a restaurant, and claim that it is somehow cheaper and better for the environment than a glass of water?  Ludicrous.  If the current economics do appear to favor/justify bottled water over a glass of water at Park Tavern, then the math is wrong, and/or the underlying assumptions are wrong.

    Smells like the real culprit here is Pepsi heavily subsidizing Park tavern’s use of the Aquafina product.  And Park Tavern won’t admit it.  Come on, people.

    Bottled water is part of the problem, folks.  One day, we’ll tell our grandkids about bottled water, and they will laugh and laugh — and want to hear the story of how we were idiots and actually used fossil fuels to make bottles, fill them with tap water, deliver them  to stores, then drive them home.  And they will never believe that sometimes the bottles of water came from faraway places like Fiji.  Crazy.Report

    Reply

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