Impact of Disposable Bottled Water
The widespread consumption of disposable bottled water carries significant environmental and economic consequences, yet there are myriad possibilities for encouraging increased use of reusable bottles filled from local sources.
According to the Columbia Water Center at Columbia University, American consumers drink an average of 21 gallons of bottled water each year, with approximately 54% of Americans drinking bottled water everyday. Such high levels of consumption carry considerable costs, with annual worldwide sales of disposable bottled water exceeding $100 billion.
A 2010 study out of the University of British Columbia discovered that if students consumed the recommended daily intake of water via disposable bottles at retail price, the cost would exceed $3,000 a year, but if the same water was supplied by the tap, the total yearly costs would only amount to $0.88! Bottled water was also determined to be significantly more energy intensive than tap water, primarily due to energy required to produce disposable bottles and the transportation of bottled water from its origin to the end use location.
Companies are increasingly developing options for bottle/glass refill stations that generally use tap water and point of use filtration to provide high quality water at a low price with minimal environmental impact.
New Fountains - All major manufacturers now have some form of bottle refilling stations. Here are options retailing from ~$1,200 to $2,000 from Brita/Haws, Elkay, Halsey Taylor
(pictured top right as installed in the Biolabs building), and Oasis.
Undercounter Filters - One of the least expensive and lowest impact solutions to encouraging bottle water use is to install point of use filtration on existing kitchen sinks. Grainger carries a line from Aqua Pure that starts at ~$125, but numerous options are available on the market at a wide range of price points.
Retrofit Kits - It's possible to retrofit existing fountains with kits from Elkay (pictured top left) and Halsey Taylor that are designed to work with "most water coolers" and cost as little as $88 in parts.
Exterior - Halsey Taylor has developed a line of hyrdration stations for use outdoors (pictured bottom right).
Stand Alone Filters - Stand alone filtration with heating and cooling fill stations are available from PHSI (pictured bottom left as installed at Blackstone North), but the benefits of reduced disposal bottle consumption must be weighed against the downside of increased energy usage. This particular station is on a floor that does not contain a kitchen sink or other means of accessing tap water.
Vending - One company, Pura Vida, has developed a system of vending mchines that filter tap water in 16oz, 24oz, or gallon increments into re-usable bottles. One unit even sells the re-usable bottles for those who don't have their own. One downside of these systems is that they are currently only offered with reverse osmosis filtration (see below).
Filters, Cooling, and Energy Consumption
Any decisions about whether to filter or chill water must be considered within the context of their environmental impact. While filtering and chilling water may provide increased incentive for occupants to choose local supplies over bottled alternatives, there are energy consumption consequences associated with each of these benefits that should not be overlooked.
Filtration and cooling both consume energy that could otherwise be avoided. It is important to note that the energy use in the chart above does not factor in the relative improvements in quality of water produced (i.e. nanofiltration will remove more contaminants than microfiltration), but excessive filtration, particularly from reverse osmosis processes, may also remove beneficial minerals from the water along with the pollutants.
Reverse osmosis filtration is particularly troublesome, as it requires a significant amount of energy while also creating a reject water stream that cannot be consumed. The Harvard Green Office Program's Leaf Four rating requires the office to remove any bottled water service or reverse osmosis systems from the space and switch to either microfiltration or pure tap water.