“Take Back the Tap,” a Montclair State University Public Health Association initiative which aims to eliminate bottled water, secured a coalition with the Greek Community on Tuesday in which all but one Greek organization agreed to eliminate the use of bottled water at their meetings and events.
This “huge victory,” as the association’s President, Alessandro Ciari, calls it, brought the initiative to a grand total of 50 signed coalitions with organizations of the Student Government Association. “[It is] a significant step forward in the pursuit of improving facilities and restricting bottled water,” Ciari said.
Since the beginning of the initiative in September 2014, the Public Health Association (PHA) has succeeded in installing improved water fountains, which employ an automatic fill feature for reusable bottles, in the Student Center, the Rec Center, Blanton Hall and most recently, Life Hall. Ciari said that PHA has also had success with residence halls, starting with Machuga Heights. The next buildings on the association’s agenda include University Hall, Richardson Hall and Partridge Hall, which according to Ciari, currently contains the most inefficient water fountains on campus.
As a part of the initiative to eliminate bottled water, the PHA conducted assessments of the physical environment around water fountains compared to vending machines. In their inspection of the pressure and temperature of the water as well as the overall cleanliness of the outdated fountains, Ciari concluded that, “if you have all these terrible water fountains, people gravitate toward vending machines” and therefore consume more sugary beverages.
Ciari described the initiative as a two-fold process: first, engaging and informing students about the environmental, social, economic, health and nutritional benefits of tap water when compared to bottled water; and, second, appealing to facility managers and administration.
In an effort to educate the community as well as gather data, the PHA hosted a “Bottled vs. Tap Water Taste Test” at the beginning of the semester. This blind comparison challenged the university community’s assurance in bottled water as the better option when compared to tap water. “People’s perception of tap water [was] totally contradicted right in front of them,” Ciari said. The result of the survey showed a three-fold increase in individuals who preferred tap water over bottled water after the blind taste test as compared to beforehand.
Along with the coalitions signed with SGA organizations, hundreds of individual students have taken the Public Health Association’s “Blue Pledge,” agreeing to eliminate the use of bottled water in their personal lives.
“Our goal is not only to reduce plastic water bottles, but to ban plastic water bottles,” Ciari said. About 100 other campuses around the country as well as the entire city of San Francisco have already banned plastic water bottles, according to Ciari.
Ciari described the specific importance of this initiative in Essex County, since his research as a Public Health major concluded that the area has a relatively high percentage of individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. “[Montclair State] is the center — the hub — of Essex County,” Ciari said. “Not only is [the initiative] going to affect [the university], but all of Essex County and maybe all of New Jersey.”