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Advertising claims by Nestlé that suggest bottled water is "the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world" are prompting an official complaint just as the biggest city in Canada debates a ban on sales of it.

A number of groups, including the citizens group Council of Canadians, are to file a complaint today under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, accusing Nestlé of trying to mislead the public.

The controversy comes as Toronto City Council deliberates whether to ban the sale of bottled water at municipal sites.

If the ban is approved, possibly as early as this afternoon, Toronto would be the largest city in the world to take such action against a ubiquitous product that for some is rapidly going from chic to taboo because of environmental concerns.

Nestlé Waters Canada stands by its advertisement, which also says "most" water bottles are recycled.

"All the claims we make are supported by research that we've done," said John Challinor, director of corporate affairs at the company, the country's largest seller of bottled water.

To date, 12 municipalities and a school board have placed restrictions on bottled water, according to a tally being kept by Nestlé.

Seventeen have rejected such measures.

Some cities are banning disposable water bottles from civic buildings because of concerns that plastic containers are adding to garbage disposal woes.

Municipalities are also being lobbied to institute such measures by the Council of Canadians. The council'shead, Maude Barlow, was recently appointed a United Nations adviser on water issues.

The Council of Canadians has raised environmental and political objections over bottled water, saying it undermines municipal drinking-water systems.

"In Canada, we have one of the best public drinking-water systems in the world" and bottled water use should be limited to emergency situations, said Meera Karunananthan, a council spokeswoman.

The skirmish over the advertisement, which appeared in The Globe and Mail in October, is part of a large tit-for-tat between the bottled water industry and environmentalists.

Nestlé also has written to municipalities, complaining that the Council of Canadians and other groups aren't being truthful in their criticism of the product.

Mr. Challinor said the company based its claim that bottled water is the world's most responsible consumer product partly on figures from Environment Canada on the amount of water needed to produce typical food and beverages.

A litre of bottled water requires about 1.5 litres to produce. A litre of soft drink needs about three litres of water; a slice of bread 28 litres; and a can of vegetables about 35 litres. The high figures for bread and vegetables are partly attributable to the manufacturing processes.

Mr. Challinor said the company's contention that most plastic beverage bottles are recycled is based on the experience in Ontario, where about 60 per cent are diverted from landfill.

The complaint also is being supported by the Polaris Institute, a left-leaning activist group, and several environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth Canada and Ecojustice.

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