Monday, May 11, 2015

“Just Tap It”: Campus Movement Grows to Reduce Environmental Damage of Plastic Water Bottles


Ramapo College students consumed more than 58,000 bottles of water in a recent year. Chances are that nearly half of that water in pricy plastic bottles came from municipal water supplies—in other words, tap water. 

Water bottle filling station        (photo Jan Barry)

By Candace Mitchell

United States culture is fast-paced, and as a result Americans have become accustomed to an “on the go” lifestyle. Americans have developed habits that help them adapt to this fast-paced culture, including relying on single-use plastic water bottles as their main source of hydration throughout the day.

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, the average person in the U.S. uses 167 plastic water bottles annually; the annual spending on bottled water in the U.S. is $11.8 billion, with 30 billion bottles of water sold per year.

Environmental Impact

This inclination to buy bottled water has negatively impacted the environment. A majority of the negative environmental effects of single-serving plastic water bottles occur before the bottle even gets into the consumer’s hand. Manufacturers use more than 47 million gallons of oil a year in order to supply plastic water bottles to American consumers, according to The Environmental Magazine. To put this in perspective, the amount of oil used to make each water bottle would fill a quarter of the water bottle. Along with oil, the production of a plastic water bottle requires more water than the water bottle itself is actually capable of holding, according to Kelowna Capital News.

Once the plastic water bottle is produced it still needs to be transported; according to The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the entire process of manufacturing and transporting a single-serving plastic water bottle to store shelves takes about 5.6 to 10.2 megajoules, which adds up to a lot of energy use. This means that about 33 cents of every dollar spent on a bottle of water from abroad goes to transportation costs, according to The Huffington Post.

Unfortunately, the life of a single-serving water bottle does not end after consumer use. According to the Container Recycling Institute, of the 30 billion single-serving water bottles purchased by Americans each year, more than 85 percent end up in landfills or incinerators. Meaning, only about 14 percent of the plastic water bottles purchased annually are recycled.

The result of this plastic waste is air, land and water pollution. When the plastic that ends up in landfills or incinerators is burned it releases toxic chemicals causing air pollution. If the plastic is not burned, it takes hundreds of years to break down, and never completely biodegrades.

Tap Water: The Alternative

Buying water in single-serving plastic water bottles is a waste of money and resources, as the state already spends money to clean our public water supply system. U.S. water utilities supply one billion gallons of tap water an hour to Americans, according to GreenFILE. Christopher O’Brien, the sustainability director at American University, explains the frustration of this waste of tap water: “we have been working for 10,000 years in human civilization to create great, safe drinking water for the public, and we have succeeded, and now we are throwing it out.”

The general fear of tap water is that it is not safe to drink, but this common misconception is simply not true. Both are regulated, though they are regulated by different administrations. Tap water is regulated by the EPA and bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which inspects bottle plants only once every two years and has “a poor record of protecting consumer health and safety,” according to the “Take Back The Tap” campaign.

Furthermore, nearly 50 percent of bottled water came from municipal tap water supplies, “Take Back The Tap” found in 2009.

Reusable Water Bottles

There are other options for Americans to obtain their daily drinking water aside from bottled water. The simplest being the gallons of clean tap water supplied to them by U.S. water utilities that can be used to fill reusable water bottles, which can easily function “on the go.” And, according to the Huffington Post, this would save Americans money, as bottled water is 240 to 10,000 times more expensive than tap water.

Many companies produce reusable water bottles that are free of phthalates and Bisphenol-A. There are many options for reusable water bottles, including top brands like Sigg, Camelbak, Brita and Bobble, that could save Americans $260 per year, considering the average $5 a week that Americans spend on bottled water, according to iSustainableEarth.

College Campaigns

College campuses are some of the first communities to take the initiative to break the habit of buying plastic water bottles. Colleges across the United States have taken steps to cut the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles on their campuses. These college campaigns range from  handing out reusable water bottles to installing hydration stations, to colleges, like Seattle University, that have banned the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles on campus altogether.

Ramapo College has taken some initiatives towards a campus that is free of bottled water, but not enough to impact the sale of plastic water bottles by dining services.

More than 90 schools are participating in movements to either ban or restrict the use of single-serving plastic water bottles. Some schools are taking simple initiatives like putting a stainless steel reusable water bottle in the welcome packs of freshman to encourage them to use the available hydration stations. Other schools, like Linfield College, set up tables with tap vs. bottled water stations and created a documentary titled “Tap That” to help engage students in the movement to ban bottled water on their campus. Other colleges, like American University, are holding symposiums to educate students on the harmful effects of the production and use of bottled water using movies like “Tapped” and “Flow.”

National movements like “Ban The Bottle,” “Take Back The Tap,” and “Just Tap It” assist schools with their catchy slogans and campaign ideas to help schools take initiative to ban or restrict the use of bottled water on their campus. “Take Back The Tap,” for instance, was created by Food & Water Watch, an independent public interest group, that allows colleges to sign up with them for tools on how to launch the “Take Back The Tap” movement on your campus.

“Take Back The Tap” is currently working with over 60 campuses. The organization assists colleges by helping them meet or talk with other campuses that have had success with the “Take Back The Tap” movement. They also provide colleges that sign up with them with fact sheets, films and how-to guides, and teach campuses to promote the movement through campus media outlets. “Take Back The Tap” has also created an app that helps you find and share water-filling stations, track colleges that are trying to reduce bottled water consumption and take a pledge to reduce your own use of bottled water.

Ramapo College

Hydration station  (photo: Jan Barry)
Ramapo College has taken some small initiatives to reduce the use of single-serving plastic water bottles on campus, but has not taken action to ban the sale of bottled water. According to Ramapo College Enactus or Ramapo SIFE, a student club at Ramapo, Ramapo currently has three hydration stations on campus and Ramapo College Enactus is working on adding two more in high traffic areas of campus. The club explained that the purpose of the hydration stations is to encourage the use of reusable water bottles, which the Ramapo College Enactus club supplies.

According to Ramapo Enactus, the initiative began when the project leader of their sustainability project wanted to help Ramapo become a greener campus by reducing plastic water bottle use. The first hydration station was installed two years ago and has been successful.

Nonetheless, Ramapo currently sells single-serving plastic water bottles in the Atrium, Convenience Store and the Curtain Call Cafe. Ramapo also sells convenience packs, which include 12 bottles of water, and gallons of water in the Convenience Store. Ramapo catering services also supplies bottled water to clients who request it.

Between July 2011 and July 2012 Ramapo College sold 58,536 bottles of water and this number does not even include convenience packs of water or gallons of water sold in the Convenience Store, according to Jeff Dannhardt, a Rampo Dining Services employee.

Ramapo Dining Services is currently under contract with Sodexo. According to Dannhardt, the contract is “an umbrella type contract, selling convenience items is part of it.” Sodexo is also under contract with Coca-Cola, and therefore Ramapo is obligated to buy a portion of their items as well, including Dasani, a brand of bottled water that is owned by Coca-Cola. In addition to Coca-Cola, Ramapo College also buys products from several other vendors, including Pepsi.

Jeff Dannhardt explains that other universities have found success in banning bottled water through college initiatives rather than through dining services. In order to ban the sale of bottled water at Ramapo the change would have to come from administration and dining services would then accommodate to these changes. However, as of now dining services purchases are based on demand and currently there is a demand for bottled water.


Candace Mitchell is a senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey. She will be graduating with a BA in Communication Arts: Journalism and Literature, and a minor in Spanish. After graduation, she will be working as a web producer for Northjersey.com. 

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