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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Water stations provide alternative to bottled water

Published: January 24, 2014
Section: News, Top Stories

Over the past week, new water fountains have sprung up across campus. On the walkway toward the art building, in East residence hall and other places, TapBrandeis has helped bring water stations across Brandeis in an effort to phase out bottled water sales.

The new units contain a drinking fountain along with a tap for refillable water bottles. They offer students a free alternative to purchasing bottles of water in dining halls, hoping to decrease students’ environmental impact. TapBrandeis, an initiative on campus originally started by Emma Balmuth-Loris ’14, Jeremy Goodman ’14, Jamie Garuti, Alina Pokhrel ’14 and Sara Taylor ’16, secured $25,000 in funding from the Brandeis Sustainability Grant to purchase the hydration stations.

The stations are both indoor and outdoor and typically cost between $1,500 and $4,000. They have been installed by Facilities Services across campus. There are currently units existing or in the process of being installed in Farber Library, the upper floor of Sherman Hall and the Shapiro Campus Center. Additional stations will be installed within the next year.

Brandeis Sustainability Fund (BSF) provides grants and support to students for any projects that promote sustainability. Each year, students can submit proposals to secure funding for their projects. Past projects have included adding bicycle racks and a shelter, signs to identify recyclable materials, the Greenbean recycling machine and drying racks for students’ laundry.

While participating in the class “Greening the Ivory Tower,” taught by Laura Goldin (ENVS) in the fall of 2012, students thought of potential plans to decrease the sale of bottled water on campus, before bringing their ideas to the BSF. This experiential learning course will be taught again in the fall of 2014.

“There is considerable support in the class for the students’ projects, from discussing their underlying rationale and potential impact to the design and implementation,” Goldin said. “Since the creation of the Brandeis Sustainability Fund, a majority of these projects apply successfully for BSF funding as needed.” Some of these projects include Deis Bikes and the organic student garden behind Massell Quad.

When the project was brought to the BSF, the board granted TapBrandeis $25,000 in funding. Sara Taylor, who spearheaded the project, spoke about their progress since being funded. “I’m also happy to say that the BSF has expanded our grant by $10,000 this year so that we can get more units and provide the incoming freshman with re-usable bottles!” she said. Taylor also indicated that reusable water bottles will be given out to the student body to increase use of the water fountains.

Although the project was approved in the fall of 2012, the stations have not been installed until this winter due to the many other projects that Facilities Services needed to complete first. According to Taylor, TapBrandeis has predominantly encountered support for their goal to pursue a bottled-water free campus. “We offered a blind taste test of bottled-water versus tap and more than 60 percent of people couldn’t tell the difference or guessed wrong,” Taylor said. “We faced resistance when people felt like we wanted to take away their buying freedom or were worried about the safety of tap water if there should be a natural disaster.”

A memo from the BSF’s meeting in February of 2013 indicates that while a completely bottle-free campus is not feasible, due to visitors who may not carry their own bottles, students could place stickers at venues that sell water to inform visitors that the refilling stations do exist.

TapBrandeis was inspired by the film “Flow: For Love of Water,” directed by Irena Salina and released in 2008. The film investigates the bottled water industry and discusses the costs to the environment and the people who are harmed in the process. “We saw how companies like Poland Spring and Dasani exploit freshwater resources of a region, leaving it polluted and even desolate of good drinking water,” Taylor said. She mentioned that tap water is more regulated than bottled water, so it is safer to drink. “As a social justice-centered institution, we decided we needed to move toward banning the bottle.” she said.

When the university switched dining services providers this fall, from Aramark to Sodexo, previous plans for decreasing the sale of bottled water were forgotten. TapBrandeis intends to continue to work with Sodexo to encourage students to buy less bottled water.