By Daniel Schemer, March 2010
This semester, the Tripp Athletic Center for UMass Dartmouth was installed with a special water-filling station, commonly referred to as a hydration station, so that patrons could easily fill their thermoses and reusable containers with water, free of charge, while they exercised. This is the campus’s first hydration station and it was installed in the gym because demand was known and it was clear it would be used and welcomed.
The installation of this hydration station has raised debates over the age-old dispute between bottled water and tap water. The hydration station was installed in the Athletic Center for practical reasons but, ideally, having water free and accessible for bottle-filling would be tempting and economical for students, and also greatly reduce the amount of trash composed of unrecycled plastic produced every day by water bottles. Having more hydration stations installed in other high traffic areas of the campus would provide no direct economic benefit for the university. Bottled water is a high commodity and brings in substantial revenue for just about any college or university. The selling of reusable containers might offset the revenue produced from bottled water, but currently there is not enough money in the university’s capital budget to support more installations. Regular water fountains are available, but are too cumbersome to use for filling containers to the point that most people are willing to try. Currently, the only possible funding source for installing more hydration stations at UMass Dartmouth is through an elective student fund, such as Student Senate.
Worldwide, between $50-100 billion is spent on bottled water every year. According to the University of Texas’s Campus Environmental Center, it takes an estimated 17 million barrels of oil per year to make all the 29 billion plastic water bottles used in the U.S, the world’s largest consumer of bottled water; that’s enough to fuel 1.3 million cars each year. A report done by Corporate Accountability International calculated that Massachusetts state agencies spent nearly half a million dollars on bottled water between July 2008 and June 2009. This is highly unnecessary given the nation’s economic plight and the fact that Massachusetts is known to have efficient public water systems.
Each dollar spent on bottled water is a dollar that could have been spent on…well, other things. Students pay hundreds of dollars a day on campus to purchase what they can drink for free, all because of the incorrect assumption that bottled water is safer than tap. State spending on bottled water doesn’t help annul the commonly-held misconception regarding bottled vs tap.
There’s practically no empirical evidence that suggests bottled water is cleaner than tap water. For one thing, most bottled water in the world IS tap water. Both Coca-Cola’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquafina, 2 of the biggest brands in the world, originate not from mountain springs or arctic glaciers, but from public drinking water facilities. Aquafina points this out on their bottles by labeling it “purified drinking water,” but all regulated drinking water is purified.
Tap water is just as safe, or even safer, than most bottled water because of the level of testing it must go through. Municipal water facilities in the United States fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA, and must follow incredibly strict guidelines and standards of filtration, contaminant detection and purification. All water facilities are required to inform the public of water quality reports and outbreaks of contaminants. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization, did a recent report of top rated municipal water utilities in the U.S.; both Boston and Providence were in the top 10. How clean is the local tap water? According to a 5-year study by the EWG’s National Tap Water Database, New Bedford and Dartmouth both exceed the national average for water testing and the EPA has no reported violations over the last 10 years. Dartmouth treats all the drinking water for the University.
Bottled water falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA, which doesn’t possess nearly as strict regulations as the EPA because they aren’t equipped to monitor the industry. Companies are basically allowed to police themselves. Beverage companies aren’t required to disclose the origins of their water or notify the public of contaminants. Only a small percentage of bottled water brands disclose water quality reports and are only required to test their water once a week, as opposed to EPA requiring municipals to test their water 100’s of times a month.
People still prefer to pay for bottled water over drinking tap simply because they see pictures of mountains and springs on the labels and naturally come to conclusion that the water came from there. The truth is that there is no such thing as completely pure drinking water. At least tap water is fresh and constantly tested. What’s the point in spending money every day to drink what can be obtained for free? Bottled water just creates more trash and empties wallets.
Several universities in North America, and all over Canada and the United Kingdom, have been working to remove bottled water sales from campuses. Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Winnipeg in Canada and Belmont University in Nashville, TN are just a few that have ended sales of bottled water. Massive student campaigns at Brown University, Cornell University and Seattle University have recently undergone to gradually remove sales from their campuses. All these universities realized they needed mechanisms that would help give people more options. Hydration stations and reusable containers are efficient solutions.