Water, water everywhere!

February 15, 2014
These plastic jugs meant our glasses of water came with a pretty hefty carbon footprint, when you stop to consider all the factors that brought these heavy bottles of water all the way from a spring in Maine to our office closet.

These plastic jugs meant our glasses of water came with a pretty hefty carbon footprint, when you stop to consider all the factors that brought these heavy bottles of water all the way from a spring in Maine to our office closet.

Changes are coming to the drinking water supply in three of Mount Auburn’s buildings!  For some time, the Administration Building has obtained most of its drinking water from a Poland Springs water bubbler, the type with five-gallon jugs.  These plastic jugs mean our glasses of water come with a pretty hefty carbon footprint, when you stop to consider all the factors that bring those heavy bottles of water all the way from a spring in Maine to the upstairs hallway closet.

For some time, the Admin Building has obtained most of its drinking water from a Poland Springs water bubbler, the type with five-gallon jugs.

For some time, the Admin Building has obtained most of its drinking water from a Poland Springs water bubbler, the type with five-gallon jugs.

Start with the bottles themselves, which are made of oil that has to be extracted from the earth, refined and brought to the manufacturing plant.  The manufacture and filling of a bottle of water uses twice as much water as ends up in the bottle.  Energy is used to run the bottle manufacturing and filling machines, sanitizing procedures, label printing, etc.  The manufacture of bottles produces its own waste, in the form of emissions of nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide, and benzene.  And then of course there’s the gasoline used to truck those bottles full of water from Maine down to Massachusetts.  All in all, according to Peter Gleick, author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water, the total energy require for every bottle’s production, transport and disposal is on average equal to filling a quarter of that bottle with oil, with an energy cost a thousand times larger than the energy required to procure, process, treat and deliver tap water.

Speaking of tap water, meet our new drinking water source!  The bubbler in Administration Building is being replaced with a countertop bubbler that filters and chills/heats our Cambridge-supplied tap water, and two new upright filtration bubblers are being added to Bigelow and Story Chapels, where drinking water has long been an issue for services and events.  All of these units use an activated carbon filtration system, and are expected to save us up to 50% on our drinking water bill.  Tap water has acquired a bad reputation over the years, but a safety comparison to bottled water might surprise you.

Tap water is strictly regulated by the EPA.  Bottled water, as a consumer product, is regulated by the FDA, which has significantly lower standards and less frequent testing.  The FDA, for example, allows for some degree of E. coli and fecal coliform contamination, whereas the EPA allows none in tap water.  Unlike tap water, bottled water does not have to be tested for Cryptosporidium or Giardia (speaking from experience, if you’ve never had giardia, you want to keep it that way).  In addition, the bottles themselves leach chemicals over time into the water they contain, contaminants ranging from antimony to toluene.  Tap water never has this plastic leaching issue.  Cambridge supplies an annual report on the quality of its drinking water, available at cambridgema.gov; according to the 2012 report, the Fresh Pond Reservoir was given more than 62,000 water quality tests over the course of the year (an average of 170 tests per day) and no EPA violations were found.  The Cambridge Water Department is also committed to implementing energy efficiency measures throughout its system, in keeping with Mount Auburn’s own commitment to sustainability.  (We also have an “in” over there, as Trustee Ann Roosevelt is the president of the Cambridge Water Board, a citizen’s advisory board with some authority over Cambridge’s watershed system).

This new dispenser is plumbed to use City of Cambridge water in the copy room of the Admininstration Building.

This new dispenser is plumbed to use City of Cambridge water in the copy room of the Admininstration Building.

All in all, the switch to the filtration water cooler system is a “no-brainer” when you consider not only the quality of our tap water but also other factors like the cost savings, the space the five-gallon jugs take up, the times when we run out of water and the risk of employees injuring themselves while changing the bottles– not to mention that gross ring of green slime that grows in the bottom of the current cooler.  We urge you to take advantage of this clean safe water source by filling up your own reusable glasses and bottles whenever you are thirsty–and you can feel good about what we are doing for the planet while you make sure to get in those eight 8-oz servings of water per day!

About the Author: Regina Harrison

Executive Assistant

View all posts by Regina Harrison →

7 Comments

  1. Helen Snively says:

    Thanks so much for doing this, and for using your bully pulpit to get others to think about it. I heard somewhere that Cambridge water is among the best in the state, if not the country, so we have no excuse for consuming anything else.

  2. fay Dabney says:

    Good move and thanks for the detailed information about the water bottles themselves. Bostonian institutions should follow suit. The Boston tap water is excellent.

  3. adam says:

    Great move, this should save money and send an important message about the importance of water as a public good. Boston tap is great and deserves our continued investment.

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