By: Jessica Griggs ~Campus News Editor~
The water crisis in Flint, Mich. made it apparent that clean water isn’t a resource readily available to everyone. Since clean drinking water is a luxury Cincinnati enjoys, a group of Xavier students working with Take Back the Tap, a national organization not affiliated with the university, made it its mission to ban the sale of disposable plastic water bottles on campus.
“I’m a land major, so a lot of my curriculum has a lot to do with conservation and sustainability,” junior Gabi Ragusa, a student working on the campaign, said. “The more time I’ve spent learning about my major and everything that comes with it, the more I realize that everything is totally interconnected. Food systems, water systems, the way we use, reuse and discard the things that we purchase are all connected to the well-being of the planet, which is ultimately what I’m interested in.”
The group is led by sophomores Carmelle Wasch and Jared Karban. Wasch was contacted by a Take Back the Tap representative last year about taking over as campaign manager, and since then, the movement has gained traction on campus.
The group is circulating a petition on campus where students can pledge to use refillable drinking containers in the future as opposed to buying water in disposable bottles.
“As of March 1, we have over 500 signatures,” Wasch said. “I’m hoping to continue collecting signatures until all, or almost all, of the students on campus and faculty (have signed) as well.”
The petition is part of a competition among a few different universities, including Xavier and University of California Santa Cruz, to implement more sustainable water initiatives. The school with the most signatures per capita will win a $1,500 grant.
“(The grant) will be used for reusable water bottles and water bottle fill stations like the ones in Alter and Gallagher,” Wasch said.
If the group achieves its goal of banning disposable water bottles on campus, other beverages sold in disposable plastic bottles like soda or sports drinks will still be available.
“People are more apt, if they want water, to walk to a drinking fountain than to figure out some other way to get a soda,” Ragusa said. “It’s easiest in terms of accessing that kind of convenience. We’re pushing the use of reusable water bottles because we want to encourage people to drink water, just from the right source, the responsible source.”
According to Ragusa, who toured Greater Cincinnati Water Works, Hamilton County’s water is just as clean, if not cleaner, than bottled water.
“I don’t think it’s very clearly understood how clean our water is,” Ragusa said. “It’s important for people to understand that just because the water is in a bottle and it looks clean doesn’t make it any cleaner than the water that comes out of the sink. The Ohio EPA sets standards for our water consumption, and those standards are so much more stringent than those set for water bottles. The FDA sets standards for water bottles, and they are significantly more lenient.”
From an economic standpoint, the group asserts that using refillable water containers is significantly more efficient than buying bottled water.
“You pay $15 for a water bottle, and then you never pay for water again because there are drinking fountains everywhere,” Ragusa said. “You can buy two and a half gallons of water from Hamilton County for a penny as opposed to buying a cheap water bottle for $1.79 every time you want 16 ounces. Do the math.”
Although environmental and economic aspects are at the forefront of the movement, Take Back the Tap also aims for social and environmental justice.
“We’re trying to access people from a monetary point of view, from an environmental standpoint and also from a point of view of compassion,” Ragusa said. “We ultimately are not the people who deal with our own waste. It’s other people who are impacted by it, and this whole idea of disposal is so tied up in social justice as well because it’s never fair for the people who are impacted by our waste.”
Wasch echoed Ragusa’s sentiments.
“Environmental justice is so important when it comes to sustainability issues because not only should we be thinking about how we all can conserve, but how we can make other people’s lives better.”