Water Works

Perhaps you noticed the table set up in the Commons lobby last Thursday decorated with a sign that provocatively read “I’d Tap That: Water Taste Test” in big blue letters. At least 222 of you must have noticed it, because that’s how many students and faculty volunteered one minute of their time to try three different types of water and submit their vote on which was best tasting.

Unknown to the tasters, Pitcher #1 contained tap water, #2 filtered tap and #3 Poland Spring bottled water. EcoAction, a student organization whose goal is to raise environmental awareness, hoped to debunk the notion that bottled water tastes better than tap by presenting bottled water outside of its aesthetically pleasing packaging.

The data resulting from the taste test survey met the predictions of the EcoAction board. Filtered tap won as best tasting, with about 42 percent of the vote. Poland Spring bottled water and regular tap essentially tied, with 23 and 22 percent of the vote, respectively. The final 13 percent of participants selected the option “no preference.”

Individuals’ reactions to the taste test varied greatly and were even more interesting than the hard data. A few people correctly guessed the identities of each pitcher, but the vast majority were completely baffled. Testers too stubborn to simply select “no preference” tried samples from each pitcher repeatedly until they could detect a slight difference and choose a favorite. Others who claimed that they only ever drank bottled water chose tap water as their favorite. Many even complained that Poland Spring had a strange taste. One student said, “Number 3 tastes of chloride – must be tap.”

These results do not come to me as too much of a surprise. Although I cannot speak for Poland Spring specifically, up to 50 percent of bottled water companies get their water from “municipal water supplies,” the same place that faucets find their source. The only difference is that bottled water is more expensive, wastes fossil fuels and clogs landfills. A gallon of bottled water costs more than a gallon of gas and costs hundreds of times as much as tap water. In addition, the barrels of oil wasted on plastic bottle production each year could fuel a million cars. Moreover, only one in five bottles is recycled, adding billions of pounds of waste to landfills. “The Facts about Bottled Water” from Education Database Online provides these statistics and other useful environmental information. To sacrifice so much just to get average-tasting bottled water seems ridiculous.

While the taste test was a victory for EcoAction, we admit that we’re still trying to come up with an effective and practical way to eliminate plastic bottled water on campus. The most popular, filtered tap, can only be found in select places on campus, such as the filtered water system next to the Dean of Student’s office and the premium filter in Commons. Plus, these filters have to be plugged in 24/7 to heat or cool the water. While they might be a good compromise compared to bottled water, they don’t come close to the environmental benefits of drinking plain old tap.

Andover has actually been trying to phase out bottled water on campus for a few years. The Athletic Department no longer purchases or provides bottled water for games. Still, there remain several offices on campus that have yet to transition to this new rule. In addition, many students purchase cases of bottled water to keep in dorm rooms.

All of the unfiltered tap water on campus has been tested and meets the clean water standards. However, switching Andover to tap water is less simple than I initially thought. Regardless of the administration’s budget proposals, students themselves must ultimately decide to make the change.

We’re confident there is a better way for students to get healthy, smooth-tasting water than lugging back wasteful cases of bottled water every few weeks. If you want to ditch lugging water cases up the stairs and save both yourself and the Earth a little sweat, then make the switch to tap water.

Amanda MacDonald is a three-year Senior from Andover, MA.