First, some facts: Americans consumed 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water in 2011. On average, each American used 221 half liter bottles per year. Roughly seventy percent of those bottles were not recycled.
Class of 2014, it doesn’t take a Baker Scholar, or even Erik Peterson, to realize that trashing approximately 53 billion plastic water bottles every year is not ideal. Most plastics do not decompose quickly or completely. It takes hundreds if not thousands of years for plastic bottles to decompose in landfill. If plastic is washed out to the cold dark depths of the sea, it doesn’t decompose at all; it just fragments into smaller and smaller pieces that accumulate in the ocean. These pieces of plastic can have direct effects on marine life, such as malnourished fish, and longer-term effects on ocean ecosystems that are not yet well understood.
That’s only what it takes to dispose of bottled water. Even more troubling is how much oil it takes to produce it. The Earth Policy Institute calculates that we used about fifty million oil barrels worth of energy to feed our bottled water habit in 2006. That’s 2.5 days of total US oil consumption.
And no, it’s not because all the water needs to be shipped here from an eternal spring in Fiji.
45% of all bottled water in the US is tap water that is purified to remove minerals and adulterants and sold at an enormous markup. Bottled water can vary enormously by source and manufacturer, just like tap water, and is not necessarily cleaner, healthier or better tasting. In fact, I’m willing to bet that you can’t really taste the difference as much as you think you can.
This week, I and other HBS Sustainability Associates and Section Green Reps will be conducting bottled water taste tests by the front door of the Grille. It’s like the Pepsi Challenge campaign against Coke, but with a slightly smaller budget and a worthwhile purpose. Come and try to prove to us that Evian does taste better, and at the end of the week we will share the results.
The taste test is just one of a series of events that Sustainability Associates and Section Green Reps will be running over the next two weeks, in order to promote awareness of the facts about bottled water and encourage HBS students to use their Swell water bottles instead. We’ll be running randomized audits by section to count the number of people drinking bottled water, screening the movie “Tapped” with free beers for the first 50 people who arrive (8pm, March 5th at the Grille), and eventually asking people to sign one of the following two pledges. In order of hardcore-ness, they are:
1) “No more bottled water, for the rest of the RC year.”
2) “I will recycle every water bottle I drink at HBS, for the rest of RC year.”
If you want to take a sticker to put on your name card, so that you make a statement and your buddies can hold you accountable, the section reps will be happy to give you one.
If we get one hundred pledges, we’ll have saved thousands of water bottles from landfill. And we’ll be catching up a bit with the Harvard Faculty Club, which in November banned bottled water and introduced the snazzy bottle below for guests, as well as many other campuses that have banned or restricted bottled water.
If you’re an RC, contributing to the taste tests, audits, and pledges will accumulate points for your section in the Green Cup Competition. The Green Cup grand prize is $1,000 for your section to spend however you wish. Whoever wins, enjoy the party! Maybe for once your social chairs can spring for a champagne waterfall instead of solo cups.