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Office of Sustainability encourages mindfulness with water testing challenge

One might think water is water, but that is not always the case. True water snobs pride themselves on being able to pick out a “Dasani” water from a “Voss.” The Office of Sustainability’s favorite brand of water, however, is the one with the least waste, so they decided to put drinking water to the test.

From noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, representatives from the Office of Sustainability sat beneath Alumni Gateway with two water dispensers, one red and one blue. Each was full of still-cold water, anonymously representing two water types: tap and bottled. Passersby could stop and refresh on the hot day with a dixie cup of each and a task to guess which was bottled. 

Izzy Stitchick, a junior studying environmental sciences and the social media and marketing coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, said the challenge will hopefully encourage students to stop purchasing bottled water in favor of more sustainable options.

“We are testing to see if people can tell the difference,” Stitchick said. “And usually there's not really a consensus, people can't tell the difference and that is to kind of highlight how there's really no point in buying bottled water when it kind of just all tastes the same.”

According to Statista, a 2019 study found Americans tend to drink tap water for taste, quality and safety. However, Kate Harmon, a junior studying environmental sciences and events coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, said with water regulations, people need not be concerned regarding the safety of their water.

“You don't need to buy plastic water bottles since it creates a lot of plastic waste, and tap water is more regulated,” Harmon said. “In reality tap water tastes the same if not better, and it's more regulated by the government so it's actually safer.”

According to the Ohio Department of Health, drinking water must be tested for basic contaminants like E. coli and nitrates in order to be approved under a private water system permit. Ohio also follows national regulations for drinking water, including required water-testing schedules and methods.

The City of Athens gets most of its tap water from ground water and an intricate well water system that has been around since 1894. In its 2020 Drinking Water Report, the City of Athens said Athens’ water is at higher risk for contamination, so in 2017 Athens adopted a stormwater management program to better protect drinking water from contaminates by educating the public, controlling stormwater runoff and monitoring possible interferences with the clean water system. 

As for taste concerns regarding the differing waters, Stitchick said most people who participated did not notice a difference between the two water samples, but those who did referred to the bottled water as “plasticky.” According to Stitchick, the challenge results found 74% of participants preferred tap water to bottled. 

Wednesday’s water challenge was part of a larger concept, 2022’s Pollution Prevention Week. Hosted by the Office of Sustainability, the week of Sept. 19 through 25 hosts a plethora of sustainable events and information, including a Court Street litter pick-up Monday and a pollution prevention information table Tuesday.

“I feel like it’s really important to encourage the reduction of litter and plastic waste here, since our campus is just a little area of Athens, so everybody’s affected by everything that happens,” Alissa Feldman, a freshman studying environmental science and sustainability, said. “It’s important to keep our community safe and clean.”

Harmon encouraged students to follow the Office of Sustainability on Instagram for more information about upcoming events and tips on how to live more sustainably. 

“I also think climate change is a very overwhelming issue,” Stitchick said. “It's easy to become hopeless, but realizing that our individual actions and our individual choices do have a tiny little impact I think brings hope and meaning to people, and collectively we can make a big difference.”


Katie Millard


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