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Sustainable drinking water

A billion people lack access to safe drinking water globally. Here in Portland, the two dollars spent on bottled water buys more than 700 gallons of city tap water, which is some of the world’s best. What’s more, it takes three times the amount of water in a bottle just to manufacture the plastic to contain it.

Tap water is cleaner, cheaper and less wasteful, yet the average American consumes 160 bottles a year. Many of these bottles don’t get recycled, and instead end up in landfills, incinerators or joining the masses of harmful plastic in the ocean.

Students are leading Portland State to become a model for reducing the tremendous waste of resources from consuming bottled water.

Leading the way is Take Back the Tap, which was formed in 2008 by PSU students in the Environmental Club.

Video: Take Back the Tap at PSU

The group surveyed students and found that the main barriers to drinking tap water are perceptions about purity, not having a reusable bottle and not having convenient places to fill up. They set out to address each of these problems.

With a grant from the Miller Foundation through the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, Take Back the Tap has provided hundreds refillable steel bottles to students at a discount. The group has also initiated the installation of filtered, hands-free refilling stations around campus. Ten refilling stations have already installed, and 11 more are on the way.

Map of refilling stations (pdf)

Building on this momentum, in September 2011 President Wim Wiewel established a Sustainable Drinking Water Task Force to fast track the reduction of plastic water bottle waste on campus.

The Task Force, comprised of staff and students including members of Take Back the Tap, is charged with getting people to ditch plastic water bottles for city tap water. The group has made its recommendations to the president and will implement the changes over the 2013-2014 school year.

Meanwhile, PSU’s student government has already restricted the use of student fees to purchase bottled water, and the Systems Science Graduate Program has ditched the use of plastic water coolers in its office.

For more information about Take Back the Tap, email