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Campaign looks to raise awareness of tap water use

<p>Rob Cavella, a graduate student, uses the hydration station in the College Avenue Gymnasium.</p>

Rob Cavella, a graduate student, uses the hydration station in the College Avenue Gymnasium.

Bottled water often seems like the healthiest way to get hydrated, but members of the University’s Take Back the Tap organization say the opposite is true.

Members talked to students at Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus yesterday about the benefits of tap water, said Caroline Lipiec, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.

The event is a part of “Tap-A-Palooza,” a nationwide competition aiming to get students to pledge not to use bottled water, she said.

College campaigns nationwide are competing to get the most signed petitions, with the winning college getting a bottle refilling station, she said.

The campaigns educate more people about the history and importance of the bottled water industry, Lipiec said.

“Twenty years ago bottled water didn’t even exist,” she said.

Take Back the Tap’s campaign came to campus three years ago to educate students about water privatization and to remove bottled water from campus, said Kaitlin D’Agostino, campaign coordinator for Take Back the Tap Rutgers.

She said businesses should not privatize water because access to water is a human right. Businesses selling bottled water make up to an 80 percent profit.

Poland Spring, a water-bottle manufacturer, arranged a deal with city officials in Poland, Maine, to use the city’s water for profit, she said.

D’Agostino, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the deal between Poland Spring and the city was unfair because city residents never voted on the arrangement.

The production and distribution of bottled water is not environmentally friendly because it wastes fossil fuels, she said.

Bottled water is sold at a high price compared to tap water. Consumers see the product packaging and assume the water is pure, but water-testing standards often show the quality is low, she said.

Lipiec said she wanted to join a club that would help the environment. She became involved after she met the group, which she described as small but passionate, at an involvement fair.

“I could tell they really wanted to make a difference,” she said.

She watched a documentary called “Tapped” on tap water shortly afterward and was shocked, she said. The film motivated her to continue learning about water issues and to spread the word to others.

Lipiec said she is filming a documentary for the campaign to explain the history of bottled water and to dispel the myth that it is healthier to drink.

“Most of the time, it’s just bottled tap water,” she said.

Natasha Marchick, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she bought water by the case from Costco and never thought about the effects of bottled water before attending a Take Back the Tap meeting.

“Tap-A-Palooza” can support the group by teaching students about tap water resources, she said.

“I’m not even thinking about it from a competition standpoint,” Marchick said. “I just think it’s great overall that Rutgers is taking a stance.”

Marchick said University students could be more environmentally and socially conscious by using tap water instead of disposable plastic bottles. Shortly after learning about Take Back the Tap, Marchick began carrying a refillable aluminum water bottle around campus.

“At the end of the day, it’s a lot more economical,” she said. “It’s more like an investment.”

Although many people know about water shortages, they do not think the problem personally affects them, Lipiec said.

She said she often sees University students using disposable water bottles, especially during hot weather.

Tap water has to meet both national and state standards for wastewater treatment by the Environmental Protection Agency, but the Food and Drug Administration, which has looser standards, regulates bottle water.

“New Jersey actually has great quality standards,” D’Agostino said.

Student interns at Food & Water Watch in New Brunswick started the campaign to promote the use of hydration stations — water fountains with bottle refill attachments — around campus. After some time, they received grants to install the first stations.

The group also aims to make on-campus events more environmentally friendly by using pitchers of water.

“New Brunswick … has some of the best water in New Jersey,” she said. “That’s something to be really proud of.”

D’Agostino is on the national advisory board for Take Back the Tap. She is 1 of 3 coordinators who mentor other campaigns around the country, talking with members about their progress.

The “Tap-A-Palooza” contest is part of a month of water awareness to teach people the issues surrounding bottled water and the benefits of tap water, she said.

“People should have water available,” she said. “There should be no question about it.”

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