Tufts Against Plastic: Water Taste Tests Katy Kidwell, Lauren Deaderick, Robby Perkins-High Tufts University Introduction 1 Tap water is clean: Unlike tap water, bottled water is not required to pass numerous and rigorous health tests each week. At Tufts, the tap water is tested 500 times a week for 120 contaminants. Even more alarming, 22% of bottled water brands tested contained chemical contaminants at levels above state health limits. Tap water is more environmentally friendly than bottled water: Additionally, bottled water uses a huge amount of resources in the course of their production and transportation. Each year, the production of plastic water bottles uses 17 million barrels of oil, which is enough to fuel 1 million cars for a year. Moreover, the manufacturing of plastic water bottles requires three times the amount of water than it does to fill the bottle. In addition to the production waste, once a plastic water bottled it only has a 20% chance of being recycled, creating 3 billion pounds of plastic waste a year. Tap water is less expensive than bottled water: bottled water can be up to $10 a gallon, while tap water is a free resource to which Americans have access . Furthermore, 40% of the bottled water on the market is tap water repackaged. So why do Tufts students drink bottled water? In Fall 2010, the Environmental Action ex-college class decided to work to reduce the use of non-reusable water bottles on campus. Tufts Against Plastic (TAP) is a student group that grew out of those efforts. We conducted a preliminary online survey to explore Tufts students’ water-related habits. Based on 405 responses, 86% of students already own reusable bottles. Yet, many still continued to buy bottled water because of perceptions of convenience and taste. Results Figure 2: Responses of taste test participants guessing the source of the water sample they were tasting. Sample Size = 51 Guesses For Bottled Guesses For Tap Guesses for Filtered 24% 39% 37% 41% Figure 1: Preliminary survey response. Sample size = 403 If you buy bottled water, where do you buy it? 24% 37% Filtered Tap 39% 37% Bottled 22% In a follow-up survey of 413 Tufts undergraduates, students indicated what they would do if there were no bottled water in Hodgdon: use their reusable bottle, choose another bottled beverage, have no drink, or buy bottled water elsewhere. Figure 3: Survey Responses. We decided to investigate this question of taste and ran water taste tests in order to collect data on whether students could taste the difference between tap, bottled, and filtered water. We predicted that the taste tests would act to change students attitudes on why they choose bottled water. If they decided bottled water doesn’t have the fresher, cleaner taste that is advertised, we hope that the student would then have greater incentive to use a reusable bottle with tap or filtered water. Method The water taste tests were held in Dewick Dining Hall and during the EarthFest event. For each test, two members of TAP sat at a table in the entrance way of the Dining Hall, or, in the case of Earthfest, on the academic quad. Three containers holding bottled, filtered, and tap water were (labeled 1, 2, 3). When a student approached they were given a cup and poured themselves a drink from each of the containers. After they had tried all three, they were given a ballot to fill out their predictions. The ballot had the number of each container (1, 2, 3) and each option for them to circle their choice. Dewick was chosen because it is the larger (of two) dining halls, and Earthfest was a well-attended event on campus. As students walked by we asked them to come over an try our test, encouraging as much participation as we could. Additionally, our taste tests were used as a chance for us to educate the students. When students would complete the taste test we would explain the purpose of the study and describe some of the harms of bottled water and the benefits of tap water. If there were no bottled water in Hodgdon, I would: 300 250 200 150 100 50 0 Resusable bottleAnother drink Not get a drink Buy elsewhere Considerations •Survey and taste test participants were selfselected, potentially skewing the results. •Survey results (Figure 2) may be skewed towards the demographics of the class, as the majority of participants were invited by Facebook friends Conclusions For all three water types the majority of students could not accurately identify the source of the water. In fact, only about a third of the students for each type guessed correctly: 22% for tap, 37% for filtered, and 39% for bottled – showing that, on average, only one-third of student answers aligned with the actual water source. Because student guesses were relatively evenly distributed between the three choices, we hypothesize that the correct guesses were random and that students cannot taste the difference between tap, filtered, and bottled water. The follow-up survey showed that when students don’t have the choice of bottled water, the majority would simply use a reusable bottle as their first alternative choice. Because student preference of bottled water based on taste is not substantiated, then the main issue become one of perceived conveinience. Our club has worked with Facilities to get Hydration Stations, a brand of filtered water fountains, installed in Hodgdon, Houston, and the Campus Center to make filling reusable bottles easier. We recommend that bottled water be removed from Hodgdon and replaced with reusable bottles and access to tap or filtered water. Acknowledgments We would like to thank Tina Woolston and Negin Toosi, for supporting our work from start to finish. Also thanks to Tufts Sustainability Collective, Patricia Klos, Director of Dining Services, Bob Burns, Director of Facilities Services for help and advise. And a big Thank You to Katie Segal, Victoria, Bizzy Lincoln, and Danny Markowitz and our whole Environmental Action class for helping us with planning and taste tests.