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The Toxic Waters series continues to raise serious questions about water quality in the USA.  Elevating the issue to the forefront of the national news has lent momentum to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s stated commitment to improve drinking water quality standards and enforcement.   

I look at it as another call to action to protect our watersheds, lobby for enforcement of our existing clean water regulations, and support upgrades to our water and sewer infrastructure.  It matters what you throw on the ground, in the sewer, and on your lawn.  Whatever you put down could ultimately end up in your drinking water source and add to the cost of your water treatment.  We need to be willing to pay more for our tap water in order to assure that it’s clean.  It’ll still be a bargain at prices 100s of times cheaper than bottled water.  Let’s not give up and rely on bottled water which has already been shown to wasteful – that’s not a sustainable option.   And don’t forget that you don’t know what’s in bottled water either.

The good news is that 87% of the people in the USA have clean drinking water.   Links to find out about your own water quality and water filtration options are provided in the New York Times article, “Is Your Water Safe“.  The small percentage of people whose drinking water doesn’t consistently meet EPA standards should definitely consider home water filtration – it’s the greenest and most economical option.

“The bottled-water industry isn’t just seizing an opportunity — it is banking on the decline of our water infrastructure as key to their successful business model” according to an editorial by Patti Lynn.   Lynn further quotes Nestlé Waters North America CEO Kim Jeffery as saying “We believe the tap infrastructure in the U.S. will continue to decline. People will turn to filtration and bottled water for pure-water needs.”

Is this the handwriting on the wall?  I’m sure that the CEO of Nestle is a smart business person, and I’m afraid this might be a pretty safe bet in spite of the recent decline in bottled water consumption reported earlier this year.  Clearly, there is a lot more work for Back2Tap and other organizations like ours to do.  We will all need to do more than raise awareness and convert people to tap – we will also have to convince people to actively lobby for watershed protection and improvements to their water infrastructure.

The future of tap water is looking better all the time. After decades of continually eroding enforcement of the Clean Water Act, the EPA is pledging to turn the agency around.  Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA announced that the EPA has drawn up an action plan that includes better enforcement, better oversight of states, and more transparency and accountability.  While development of this plan began in July 2009, the Toxic Waters series in the New York Times has certainly galvanized the public and congressional leaders in support of this effort.

This is fantastic news for anyone concerned about the quality of our drinking water. The last thing we want to do is end up relying on bottled water for drinking. While only a small percentage of households on public water systems receive water from systems that have experienced health-based violations, it is unacceptable that anyone in the USA should have unsafe tap water come out of their faucets at home on any occasion.

If you are following the series on Toxic Waters by Charles Duhigg in the New York Times, his latest article is more encouraging.  A recent EPA news release says that the EPA is going to undertake a re-evaluation of its previous rulings on atrazine.  This could lead to stricter regulations, ie. lower acceptable levels allowed in our tap water.   Ah, this is what I was saying could happen if the issue was raised!  I’m not sure if there is any connection between peoples reaction to the Toxic Water series and this EPA decision, but it certainly gives you reason to believe the EPA is listening.  

When the Patriots Path Council called to invite Back2Tap to their Jamboree celebrating 100 years of Boy Scouts, I didn’t really know what to expect. Preparing for the “jambo,” I began to wonder whether any boys would visit a table presenting the evils of bottled water when they could be spear throwing, mountain boarding, bullwhip cracking, or watching an army tank run over a car.

In spite of having about 175 cool activities to choose from, a couple hundred of the 4300 scouts and leaders did find time to spend at the Back2Tap table this past Saturday. Every single boy and leader listened intently, asked questions, and seemed genuinely excited about our campaign for getting back to drinking tap water and using reusable bottles. This was definitely the best crowd I’ve ever worked with as an exhibitor. I also learned a lot – from the challenges of having private well water to the best type of carabiner.

Interestingly, even these outdoorsy community-minded folks who had reusable bottles clipped to their belts weren’t familiar with the astounding facts about bottled water waste. Many of them told us that if people knew about the:

• 140 million disposable bottles going to landfills everyday,
• 700 years it takes for plastic to decompose,
• 4 ounces of oil it takes to make each disposable bottle,
• 1000 times greater cost of bottled water, and
• more stringent regulatory oversight of tap water compared to bottled water,

jambo 005

they would be persuaded to drink tap water from reusable bottles instead of bottled water. Most people just don’t know about the hidden costs of their consumer choices. To illustrate these impacts, we had a sequencing activity where scouts put the 18 steps in the Life Cycle of a Disposable Plastic Water Bottle in order (see photo). Impacts on the environment were obvious at many steps in the Life Cycle. Before leaving, they were also able to take our Bottled Water IQ Test to see how much they had learned.

Obviously, there is a lot more work to do getting these facts and concepts out to people. Most of the scouts and scout leaders left our exhibit table eager to spread the Back2Tap message with the rest of their troop and with their communities. This is exactly the type of help the Back2Tap movement needs because it is not a message that large multi-national corporations with large advertising budgets is going to sponsor. It will take community leaders like scouts, teachers, PTO members, municipal volunteers, and green activists spreading the word, community by community. To find out how to help foster the Back2Tap movement, visit our community page.

Congratulations to the Patriots Path Council and the participating scout troops for organizing such an exciting and inspiring event. It was an honor to meet and talk with so many of you – thank you for sharing your opinions and suggestions with Back2Tap.

You can keep it simple and cheap.  Forget all the powders, potions, and bottles of expensive sports drinks for your kids.  Just send your children off to school and sports with plain old tap water in reusable stainless steel water bottles.  According to Phys Ed: Are Sports Drinks Actually Good for Kids?, unless children will be exercising vigorously for more than 90 minutes, water is better for them.   And outside of exercise, sports drinks are not a good choice – they are just expensive sugar water.

Most sports drinks don’t even come close to replacing the electrolytes you lose when you sweat a lot,  so they aren’t doing what you think they are doing.  If they had enough salt in them, you wouldn’t want to drink them!

For older children (10-12 and up) who are exercising  hard for more than 90 minutes, dehydration is a concern and sports drinks are appropriate.  Studies have shown that young athletes do drink significantly more water when it is flavored and almost twice as much when it contains electrolytes and carbohydrates, like a sports drink.

If you want to be green and frugal, check out this DIY sports drink recipe made with your very own tap water from “Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook,” 4th Edition:

Sports drink recipe from “Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook”
1/4 cup sugar (or stevia powder to be really healthy!)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup hot water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 1/2 cups cold water

In a quart pitcher, dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water. Add the remaining ingredients and the cold water. The drink contains about 50 calories and 110 mg of sodium per 8 ounces, approximately the same as for most sports drinks (unless you substituted stevia powder for the sugar).

So be green, be frugal, and be healthy, fill your reusable bottles with tap water, flavored if serious exercise awaits!

The New York Times series “Toxic Waters” written by Charles Duhigg presents a disturbing view of our drinking water quality in the USA.  The first article about herbicides (atrazine in particular) points out that it is time to strengthen some of the federal drinking water standards in light of new research.  You can read more about it in my earlier Earthsense blog entitled “Don’t give up on tap water.”  The second article in this series is about industrial waste, particularly in the coal-mining region of West Virginia.   Basically, Duhigg says the 1972 Clean Water Act was largely successful at stopping the rampant pollution of our rivers, lakes, and streams, but over the last 10 years it has not been well enforced by the EPA or states.  Consequently, our water quality is going downhill again.  His third article is about agricultural runoff which is a type of non-point source pollution (it doesn’t come out of a pipe).  Most of this runoff is not regulated by the Federal government, and it is not well regulated by local governments.  Disposing of huge quantities of manure by spraying it on nearby fields has led to bacteria and parasites in local water bodies and drinking water wells in heavily agricultural areas.

Before you panic and revert to bottled water, you might want to follow the advice of the New York Times on-line article “How safe is your tap water?”  First visit the EPA drinking water quality reports that are available on-line to check out the quality of water in your town.  Then, find out the names of the polluters that are located near you, by visiting the interactive database of water pollution records for the United States that was amassed by The New York Times.  If you are one of the small percentage of people who have impaired drinking water from your private well or your public water system, your next best step would be to use some sort water filtration at home while you lobby your legislators for cleaner water.  Don’t assume that bottled water is any safer, by the way.  It is regulated by the FDA, an even more poorly funded and staffed governmental agency.

There is a positive side to the story.   The EPA reports that 92% of the population served by community water systems had no reported health-based violations.   There’s also hope that investigative articles like these will pressure the EPA and states to improve enforcement of the Clean Water Act laws that were wisely enacted to protect us all those years ago.  Finally, Lisa Jackson, the new head of EPA has acknowledged these problems and says she will address them.   The more people who raise these issues with regulators and politicians, the better chance we have of achieving meaningful improvements so that everybody in the United States will be able to drink their tap water and enjoy recreation in our water bodies without fear of getting sick.

OK, I haven’t seen the movie “The Age of Stupid” yet, and from the looks of it, it won’t be easy to find it in a theatre nearby for quite a while, if ever.  There are so many interesting eco-films out there  that never come to a theatre near me.  What’s up with that?  In this day and age, it seems downright ridiculous and wrong to drive 45 minutes on a highway to see a movie, especially a green flick!

I’ve read three reviews of this movie so far this week:  one says it’s overboard gloomy, one says it’s a wake up call, and one reports that it has already inspired a huge greenhouse gas reduction campaign in Great Britain called 10:10 (reduce emissions by 10% by 2010 – that would be in a few months!).

As a co-founder of Back2Tap, I figure I’ve got to see “The Age of Stupid”  because it rails on people who think they are green simply because they recycle their disposable plastic bottles.   The movie makes the point that it isn’t going to be as simple as recycling more or buying organic.  We’re going to have to “reinvent” the way we live in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Thankfully, there is one lifestyle change we can all make without much effort – the way we drink water and use disposable plastic bottles.  Tap water takes 800 times less energy to deliver than bottled water according to “The Age of Stupid.”    We can all drink tap water from reusable bottles instead of bottled water and significantly reduce our waste of resources and carbon footprint.  That is the primary message Back2Tap shares with schools, groups, and anyone who will listen.   Join our Reusolution!

The bottled water phenomenon may be one of the biggest marketing hoaxes of all time.   Huge advertising budgets are spent to convince us that bottled water is healthier and better than tap water even though it isn’t.    What next, is someone going to start bottling and selling the air we breathe?   Some would say the bottled water company ads are misleading and some would say they are outright lies.  Tap water and reusable bottle proponents are becoming more and more creative and vocal in their challenge of this bottled water propaganda. 

On one flank of the battle against bottled water, Back2Tap has just posted a creative and thought-provoking awareness video on YouTube that debunks the myths about bottled water  – one by one.    It aims to raise the question in people’s minds: why am I still drinking bottled water?   No exaggeration is necessary to make the case – the waste associated with bottled water is repulsive.   Joining Back2Tap‘s longer educational video for students, this new video is shorter and primarily for adults. 

A much racier approach is taken by another reusable bottle company whose TV ads insinuate that disposable plastic water bottles leach BPA (the hormone disruptor) which they don’t.  Providing misinformation in order to scare people into buying a reusable bottle goes over the edge in my opinion.  Not surprisingly, they are being sued by the International Bottled Water Association.  Another ad campaign described in a recent New York Times article: “An Environmental Group’s Campaign of Wry Lies against Bottled Water” tells amusing lies about bottled water that say “If bottled water companies can lie, we can too.”   At least this approach is funny and only promotes lies, tongue in cheek.

Let’s hope this multi-pronged counter-attack will push back the bottled water company highjacking of our senses and resources!

I remember squirming when my favorite manager at Shell quiped one day: there are two things you don’t want to see being made:  your car and your hot dog.  I would now add to that, your bottled water.  As it stands, the regulations for bottled water are weaker than for tap water.  This is news to most people who just assume bottled water is better than tap due to a decades long bottled water marketing blitz.  According to the July 8, 2009 Wall Street Journal article by Jane Zhang: “…by December, bottlers must eliminate E.coli in their products.”  Bottoms up! 

Currently, if bottling companies find contamination, they do not have to report it, whereas municipal water suppliers are required by the EPA to report contaminants within 24 hours according to Zhang.   Bottling companies should also be required to put more information on their labels.   It seems, Congress is on it.   Stricter regulations for bottled water are being discussed on Capitol Hill.  It’s about time they do something to better regulate this $11.2 billion industry.

Personally, I’ll be disappointed if bottled water is held to the same high quality standard as tap water.   The poor regulation of bottled water makes a very compelling argument for my business, Back2Tap.   If this new legislation comes to pass, we’ll merely have the staggering waste and unhealthy plastic arguments to convince people to forego bottled water…

How does the fact that 100 million disposable plastic bottles are thrown in landfills every day in the USA sound?  How about the fact that plastic takes more than 700 years to decompose?  How about the 4 ounces of petroleum used and 120 grams of CO2 generated in the manufacturing of each bottle of water?  How about the unknown health effects of plastic components leaching from the bottle into the water when it is stored under warm conditions?  On second thought, I guess we still may still be able to convince some people to kick the bottled water habit, even if there’s not supposed to be any more E.coli in it after December.

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