TAP Water Bottle Challenge: Together Against Plastic
The GraduateGreen plastics campaign
In 2019, students from the BHS Global Leadership class launched the annual TAP Challenge to raise awareness about, and donations for, clean water in Brookline's sister city, Quezalguaque, Nicaragua. The first TAP Challenge took place December 9-20, 2019.
The Challenge: Refrain from purchasing single use plastic beverage bottles for 10 days; donate $10 instead to the Quezalguaque clean water initiative (bottles cost $2 each at Brookline High).
Why this challenge? Eastern Massachusetts has some of the highest quality, most accessible and best tasting water in the world. Burning fossil fuels to transport inferior water is unnecessary and serves only to benefit multinational corporations that aim to privatize water. People living in poor communities worldwide often have to haul contaminated water that can make them sick. Billions of plastic water bottles end up in our oceans and waterways and destroy marine life, including fish that humans depend on for protein.
Water and Plastic facts
All of our water in Brookline comes from the Quabbin Reservoir, which is rigorously tested daily and can hold up to a 5 year supply of water. The MWRA (Massachusetts Water Resources Authority) won the best tasting water in New England twice in the last decade. By the 1940s, it was the largest human-made reservoir in the world (MWRA).
40% of bottled water is originally from a tap source, not a natural spring (see Dasani, for example). When you purchase bottled water, you have likely purchased a public resource.
Americans each purchase 315 plastic water bottles annually. Globally we buy a million plastic bottles per minute and in 2020 will purchase more than a half a trillion plastic water bottles globally. Only 9% of plastic is recycled worldwide (National Geographic)--many of the purchased plastic water bottles end up in the ocean even after a consumer intended to recycle that bottle (see also Forbes). A repeat use of your purchased bottled water to “help the environment” is folly; 8 million tons of plastic migrate to the ocean every year. Plastic water bottles are often made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which may take up to 400 years to naturally decompose, and every 1 litre of bottled water requires at least another two litres of water to produce the bottle.
Private water companies use fossil fuels to truck water from a local market to another with clean and safe TAP water. Plastic bottles, made from additional petroleum, are then taken home (often in additional plastic packaging). Imagine the carbon footprint of water shipped thousands of miles from Fiji. And drinking from the TAP is hundreds of times cheaper than bottled water. A sustainable BHS should not sell bottled water or rely on Poland Spring to replace our TAP water.
In the ocean, sun, salt and currents break down our water bottles into microplastics, which are present inside of plankton and make their way up the food chain. More than 60% of the world’s population depends on fish for their primary protein source--many of us will eventually eat the plastic bottles that we used one time to hydrate us.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of debris in the North Pacific Ocean, a vortex of spinning waste (mostly plastic) where water from the South pacific encounters the cooler water from the Arctic, trapping ocean plastic. “Most debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is plastic. Plastic is not biodegradable, meaning it does not disintegrate—it simply breaks into tinier and tinier pieces, known as microplastics” (National Geographic). This giant marine garbage clump--which is larger than Alaska--floats atop a much bigger heap, the 70% that sinks to the bottom. Microplastics of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can simply make the water look like a cloudy soup. NOAA estimates that it would take 67 ships one year to clean up 1% of the patch. Let’s at least prevent it from growing.
Recycling is not magic: it does not make plastic disappear, especially when it creates an unnecessary carbon footprint (see this short NY Times video about how seldom plastic is recycled). Besides, it still took between 32-54 million gallons of crude oil to create all the plastic bottles made in 2018 alone. That is enough to fill 77 million car gas tanks (The independent, Common Dreams).
Brookline’s sister city, Queazalguaque, Nicaragua has a population of about 8000 people where “unsafe water is one of several factors thought to be related to chronic renal insufficiency (along with dehydration, exposure to extreme heat and others) (BQSP). Further, many waterborne diseases are caused by drinking contaminated or dirty water including diarrheal diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery and amoebiasis.” Microbial contamination has been found in 4 of 12 wells in Quezalguaque. Water tanks lack sanitary seals and the chlorination system needs improvement. The BHS TAP Water Challenge aims to raise money to support improvements to Quezalgauque’s water system.
Resources: Learn more
Quabbin Reservoir:Water in Nicaragua (Borgen Project)
Tap v. Bottled (Food and Water Watch)
Privatized Water: Nestle (Bloomberg)
Public water for private profit (NPR)
Microplasics (National Geographic)
Great Pacific Garbage Patch (National Geographic)