Why tap water?
In an October 2016 survey of first-year students, we found that 23% fewer students drink tap water on campus compared to at home.
Additionally, and perhaps even more striking, on a safety scale of 1 to 5 (5 being most safe), over 50% of students consider Cambridge tap water to be 3 or lower. Instead of drinking tap water, students are turning to bottled water, which is both environmentally costly and economically inefficient. To address this, we applied to and were selected for a Student Grant from the Office for Sustainability, and used the funds to design and print outdoor and indoor posters, create videos, and compile educational materials to promote tap water drinking on campus.
Tap water is safe, free, and green, and our hope is to change the tap-water attitudes and practices of freshmen and others at Harvard.
We drink tap water, and you should too!
In case you aren’t convinced, check out our photos and videos for some familiar faces who drink tap water:
Q: Is bottled water safer than tap water?
A: No. A four-year review of the bottled-water industry and its safety standards conducted by the National Resources Defense Council found that there is no assurance that bottled water is cleaner or safer than tap water.
Q: Should I be worried about lead contamination or chemicals in the tap water here?
A: The issues sometimes present with tap water—pesticide runoff contamination in rural communities or and lead contamination in older homes—are not relevant for Harvard students. In Cambridge, the tap water is carefully regulated and very safe. Learn more
Q: Why is my tap water murky?
A: “Milky or cloudy water is often caused by air that enters pipes and escapes in the form of oxygen bubbles when water leaves your tap. Cloudiness and air bubbles do not present a health risk. During colder months, water in outside pipes is colder and holds more oxygen than your household pipes. Consequently, when the cold water enters your building and begins to warm, the oxygen bubbles escape and cause the water to look milky” (from the Cambridge Water Department website).
Q: How much does a person spend on single-use bottled water?
A: The cost of bottled water adds up. Drinking the recommended eight glasses of water per day of bottled water would cost $1,400 per year.
Q: But isn’t it cheaper here at Harvard?
A: Bottled water is still expensive in lesser amounts: the Harvard Student Agencies “recommended” delivery service of two 24-bottle cases per month costs $189 for the academic year.
Q: I’m confused, break down the prices for me!
A: Annual cost of drinking bottled water = $1400. Annual cost of drinking tap water at Harvard = $0
If you drank tap water instead of bottled water, you could afford:
- 280 Felipe’s burritos
- 450 Starbucks lattes
- 10.6 Ec10 textbooks
Q: How much energy does it take to produce bottled water?
A: According to the Pacific Institute, it takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water. In 2006, the Pacific Institute estimated that producing bottled water for American consumption took more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation, and produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. Bottled water consumption has increased since 2006, so the environmental impact is now even greater. Learn more
Q: Where do all those bottles go?
A: Bottled water is trashy: 86% of water bottles end up in the landfill instead of being recycled or reused. That’s more than $1 billion worth of plastic!
Q: If I do drink from single-use plastic water bottles, what should I do with them afterwards?
A: Recycle them through Harvard’s single-stream recycling (blue bins)! Do not reuse them, because chemicals in the plastic can leach into your beverages, especially if exposed to heat.
Who are we?
Members of Green ‘20:
- Abby Bloomfield
- Beverly Ge
- Daniel Sherman
- Emma Seevak
- Eugenio Donati
- Ike Jin Park
- Isabelle DeSisto
- Sam Benkelman
- Theodora Mautz
Participants in Campaign:
Harvard Club Swim
Harvard Environmental Action Committee
Harvard Women’s Crew
- Professor Pinker
Advisor: Kelsey Grab
Special Thanks: The Harvard Office for Sustainability, Kate Hammer, Colin Durrant, Brandon Geller, David Havelick, and Lauren Bloomberg