the poster

Tufts Against Plastic: Water Taste Tests
Katy Kidwell, Lauren Deaderick, Robby Perkins-High
Tufts University
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
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.
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
Figure 1: Preliminary survey response. Sample size = 403
If you buy bottled water, where do you buy it?
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
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.
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:
Resusable bottleAnother drink Not get a drink Buy elsewhere
•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
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.
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.

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