March 22, World Water Day, doesn’t have the name recognition of Earth Day, but it’s definitely gotten more attention this year.  In 2009, Back2Tap ran brief campaign to tie into World Water Day, but it didn’t really gather much momentum.  This year, several like-minded groups have made World Water Day a major milestone.  Tapped, a documentary movie about the bottled water industry, kicked off its cross country tour to 30 cities in 30 days yesterday.  Claiming that one day is not enough, the Tapped tour is celebrating World Water Week this week.  Food and Water Watch ran a Take Back the Tap Virtual Facebook March yesterday.

So why all the excitement about water this year?  Maybe it was watching the tortuous process of supplying clean drinking water to millions of displaced people in Haiti.  Maybe it was the growing realization that bottled water is wasteful and the money spent on it could be used more wisely.  Maybe it was all the articles reminding us that we have to work harder to protect water quality, even in the United States. 

It probably wasn’t because of this little known prediction: by 2030 two-thirds of the world will lack access to clean drinking water.  In light of all this, Back2Tap remains committed to donating 5% of our profits to help supply schools in need with clean water, through the Cental Asia Institute and to raising awareness about this issue.

It was amusing to watch two “good ole boys” bantering back and forth on national TV about a subject I know better than they do: bottled water.  Thankfully, O’Reilly and Stosser got most of it right – bottled water is a scam, and we should all be drinking tap water.   Unfortunately, Stosser couldn’t resist tossing in a few choice sound bites that over-simplified and polarized the bottled water issue.    

The interview concerned the new movie “Tapped: A call to Action” which is embarking on a 30 city tour starting on March 22, World Water Day, and concluding on April 22, Earth Day.  O’Reilly said he feels like he’s being scammed when he buys bottled water, and Stosser readily agreed that he is.  Stosser pointed out that the money could be spent for better purposes, especially since people prefer tap water in blind taste tests and since a large percentage of bottled water is tap water anyway.

Stossel disagreed with the movie’s claims about the hazards of the plastic bottles.  He’s right that the disposable bottles (#1 plastic or PET) that bottled water comes in isn’t likely to cause any health hazards.  But, bottled water can contain unhealthy levels of bacteria and other contaminants because it is not as well regulated as tap water; antimony can leach from the plastic if bottles are left in a hot car.  Experts believe that reusable aluminum bottles with BPA liners and bottles made out of polycarbonate may pose some of the health hazards mentioned in the movie.

Stossel claims bottled water is simply a waste of money, but not an environmental threat.  I would agree if there were only a few people were drinking it.  But when we are sending 140 million disposable plastic bottles to the dump every single day in the USA, it’s ridiculous to say that’s not a threat to the environment.  He claims we have enough landfill space.   Does that justify wasting our precious resources: 4 oz of oil and  51 oz of water for every 17 oz bottle of water and $12 billion in total each year?

In response to facts about plastic not decomposing in landfills, Stosser counters that paper doesn’t degrade well in landfills either.  Yes, and that is why you should get a BPA-free reusable container and fill it with tap water!   You’ll save money and reduce waste.

Stosser goes on to claim that drinking water supplies are not under threat and that more and more people will continue to get clean water as we prosper.  Actually, as we prosper, we put more pressure on our limited resources.   The prosperity in the 50s and 60s caused serious pollution of our surface waters – they had to be rescued by the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act of the 70s.   With population and industrial pollution increasing and enforcement of these laws becoming more lax, our drinking water quality is starting to go in the other direction.  This movie is not a rant by “silly lefties”, it is a call to arms for reasonable people.

Everybody agrees that the 3-D special effects of Avatar are ground breaking.  Avatar is ground breaking in another way as well.  It has defined a new genre: green action movies.  I’ve seen my share of environmental films and even though I get thoroughly wrapped up in them, action is not usually part of the equation.  As much as I liked Wall-E, Food Inc., and A Chemical Reaction, for example, they weren’t exactly nail-biters. 

When I first heard about Avatar and its sensational 3-D effects, I made a mental note to avoid it – what is an “avatar” anyway?  It sounded worse than watching someone play a nightmarish video game.   I quickly changed my mind when I read that the explorers were in search of a precious element called “unobtainium”.  Being an economic geologist, this was way too hokey to pass up.  It reminded me of the names we made up when faced with mineral or rock specimens we couldn’t identify in Mineralogy or Petrology labs in college: notaclueite.

In spite of it’s caricature treatment of just about everyone – mining industry, military, indigenous people, scientists, and the great white savior, I loved the film.  The visuals were amazing and the message was green: we are all connected to nature in ways beyond our comprehension so we ought to respect and care for our environment.   Too bad we can’t connect with nature like the Na’vi people, who were magically able to “plug in” to plants and animals.  If we could, we’d probably stand a much better chance of figuring out how to live sustainably on planet earth.

If you haven’t seen it, disregard what you may have read about its subversive political messages and immerse yourself in the shear glory of its green-ness (or should I say blue-ness?).

The latest article in the Toxic Waters Series, “Rulings Restrict Clean Water Act, Foiling E.P. A.”, was published in the New York Times today.  This is stuff you really don’t want to know.  We all want to believe that current regulations protecting our water are adequate and that corporations wouldn’t dump pollutants that could harm our drinking water quality.  Unfortunately, neither is true.

There are an increasing number of Clean Water Act violations and at the same time fewer and fewer enforcement actions by the E.P.A.  The Clean Water Act has jurisdiction over all “navigable waters”, but the term was not clearly defined and it’s scope has been shrinking over the decades.  What we do know, is that pollution dumped into waterways does find its way into people’s drinking water via ground water migration and surface water movement.   Pollutants do not simply “stay put” nor do they just “disappear”. 

Congress needs to put aside its “Toxic Politics” and act to protect our drinking water from worsening levels of pollution.  Do we want to become solely reliant on ridiculously inefficient bottled water?  Tell your Senators and Representatives to support the Clean Water Restoration Act or you’ll vote them out in November!

On Saturday, I finally got a chance to see Tapped – a compelling documentary about the business of bottled water in the United States.   It was well worth my trek up to Mercer County Community College where Hackensack River Keeper was hosting the screening.  Not available for purchase yet, the movie is only available to groups willing to pay $175 and charge admission.   You can get a flavor for the movie by watching the 5 minute trailer.

I was most startled by the lack of regulation of bottled water.  Most bottled water (60-70%) is sold in-state and is therefore completely unregulated by any agency.    Bottled water that is transported across state lines is regulated by the FDA.  Do you know how many people at the FDA are devoted to this task?  Less than 1!  When the interviewer asked the poor woman, she admitted that she actually had other responsibilities, too!  WHAT? 

Another astonishing fact was that a 10 cent bottle deposit has increased the recycling rate of disposable plastic bottles to 97% in Michigan.   If plastic waste were the only problem posed by bottled water that would be a good solution.  

Tapped showed the impact of the bottled water industry on rural towns across America where ground water is being mined.  The arrogance of the multi-national corporations is disheartening.  In the face of local opposition, dropping water levels in wells and water bodies, and even during droughts,  they continue to pump water, bottle it, transport it, and sell it.

All those bottled water labels with pictures of pristine mountains portraying the product as pure and clean couldn’t be further from reality.  This eye-opening film is worth tracking down to see.  If you’re involved with any sort of environmental group, showing Tapped would be a great way to raise awareness and motivate supporters to drink tap water and a use a reusable bottle when on the go.

Aren’t you tired of being asked to buy wrapping paper, candy, popcorn, cookie dough, or magnets at your children’s schools? The offerings are often way overpriced, useless, or just plain bad tasting. Last fall, when I was trying to figure out what sort of environmental project to do at my son’s school, the PTO president complained to me about the girl scouts drinking bottled water at their meetings and how great it would be if they would use reusable bottles. It was like a lightening strike in my mind. YES! That is exactly what we need – reusable bottles for everyone! We convinced the PTO to sell stainless steel water bottles school-wide and make it a green fundraiser. Before it was all said and done, it was a town-wide school fundraiser, involving seven schools – the first one of its kind in town. We decided to price the bottles close to retail prices to keep them affordable and still generate some profit for the school. We ended up selling 1500 bottles to a school population of 3500 students and raising over $8000! This was truly something novel: we sold something useful and earth-friendly while raising money for the school. A win – win – win!

Bottled water has become so deeply entrenched in our society that some people can’t even imagine how to provide water at an event without it.  Say what?  Maybe I’m going to show my age here, but I actually remember living a good hydrated life, attending events, and even hosting events before anyone had thought of putting tap water in a disposable plastic bottle and charging 1000 times more for it!    Based on my experience BBW (before bottled water), I have come up with some ABCs for getting by without bottled water at your school with ease:  

water cooler

Access to tap water 

Provide access to drinking water throughout the school by maintaining water fountains and cleaning them daily.  Better yet, upgrade to bottle-less water coolers in the cafeteria and in hallways and install a water filter on the tap in the teachers’ lounge.  Offering chilled filtered tap water will allay concerns about the spreading of germs at the water fountains, taste of tap water, and water quality. 

Custom water bottles

Bottles that are reusable 

Request that students, teachers, parents, and other visitors to the school bring their own reusable bottles or mugs to school each day and to all special events. Consider having a reusable bottle fundraiser or simply issuing school water bottles to every student.  Custom water bottles with the school logo are a big hit with students.  Monies raised can be used to fund water coolers! 

Containers for serving 

Pitchers filled from the faucet or from water coolers can be used to serve tap water to students in their class rooms.  Large portable coolers filled with the help of a pitcher can be used to dispense tap water at large gatherings.  For those who forget their reusable bottles, it is important to have some biodegradable disposable cups on hand and a recycling bin to collect them. 

Pitcher

Portable cooler

Bottle free bliss

All in all, becoming a bottle free school is not as daunting as it sounds.  Life was good BBW!  Putting the ABCs in place is easier and cheaper than you’d expect.  The key to getting cooperation from the entire community will be establishing and communicating a school-wide bottled water policy and letting everyone know you’ve got the ABCs covered.

You’ll be glad you did because eliminating bottled water at your school will simplify planning and clean up for events, reduce the volume of waste, save parents money, model a sustainable lifestyle for students, as well as reap significant environmental benefits for everyone. 

This morning I found a bottled water cost calculator on the New American Dream website. It enables you to calculate how much money you waste buying bottled water in a year. It’s very simple to use. First, you input the number of 16oz bottles of water you drink in a year, then the price of your tap water per gallon, and finally your average bottled water cost.  If you don’t know your tap water cost, it’s safe to assume it’s around $0.002/gallon.

The results are startling!  If you drink one bottle of water per day and pay $1.50 for it each time, you are spending an extra $550 on water!  Even if you buy your bottled water very cheaply most of the time, you will still be wasting over $150 each year. The $10-15 investment in a high quality reusable bottle seems like a bargain by comparison! 

On top of the cost savings you will achieve by using a refillable bottle, there are obvious environmental benefits as well.  The calculator also estimates the impact of your bottled water habit on the planet.  For the one-bottle-a-day person, an extra 114 gallons of water, 37 megajoules of energy, and 9 gallons of oil will be wasted as well as 68 pounds of CO2 generated.

If you’d like to reduce your impact and fatten your wallet, check out Back2Tap for your best value in high quality refillable water bottles.

Back2Tap’s mission is to encourage people to generate less waste by using Reusable bottles and bags instead of disposables, but if you really want to reduce your eco-footprint, you need to also just buy less “stuff”. There’s a great video that explains the hidden costs of all our “stuff” that is worth watching and sharing with your children: The story of stuff.
The Salwen family has taken this “less stuff” concept to a new level. A New York Times opinion piece this morning tells the story of this Atlanta family who decided to sell their huge house and give half of the proceeds to the needy: $800,000 (it was a really nice house). They have written about their experience in a book due out next month: “The Power of Half“. Their story reminds me of a book I read two years ago called “Serve God, Save the Planet” about Matthew Sleeth, a successful doctor, and his family who decided to downsize so that they could devote their energy to the ministry of protecting the earth.
Contrary to what they expected, both families were much happier and closer after they shed their extravagant lifestyles and made helping others their primary focus. Kevin Salwen, the father says: “This is the most self-interested thing we have ever done. I’m thrilled that we can help others. I’m blown away by how much it has helped us.”
The Salwens found that a smaller house put them in closer proximity to each other and led to closer family bonds. I’m not sure I’m ready to sell our house, but maybe I should view my growing sons and our ever-shrinking kitchen table situation in a more positive light. Maybe we don’t need a larger kitchen – all this closeness may not be such a bad thing!

Recycling is good but re-using is better. That’s the new trend for 2010.

Now more than ever students are starting to realize that they cannot just keep creating more and more garbage – the average student creates 67 pounds of garbage a year by bringing in a disposable lunch – that’s 18,760 pounds of garbage for an average sized elementary school every year!

Even with the best recycling efforts in place, the supply of recycled materials far exceeds the demand.  Almost 80% of disposable plastic bottles end up in landfills. Not to mention the unnecessary waste associated with the production and distribution of disposable plastic bottles – it takes three bottles of water and a half a cup of oil to make and ship just one disposable plastic bottle of water. Also, there is a swirling mass of disposable plastic garbage twice the size of Texas floating in the North Pacific Ocean – further evidence that recycling isn’t working.

But there is a better way. Back2Tap now offers reusable sandwich wraps and snack pouches in addition to reusable stainless steel bottles so schools can encourage completely litter-less lunches. Back2Tap helped one school in NJ with its first “Waste-less Wednesday” and cut lunch room garbage in half!

Reusable sandwich wrap and bottle make a litter-less lunch.

Reusable bottles helped reduce waste at Washington Avenue School.

With over 69 million students in the United States, if just 10% of them made the switch to Reusable bottles and sandwich wraps, almost 1 billion disposable plastic bottles and 2 billion plastic baggies would be kept out of landfills every school year. Together we can all make a difference, one school at a time! 

If you’d like more information about running a Back2Tap Litter-less Lunch campaign, contact customerservice@back2tap.com or call 866-228-3453.

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