Turn on to Tap

By By Stacia Clinton, RD LDN; Lucia Sayre, MA; and John Stoddard, MS on October 21, 2014

Tap water is THE healthy beverage of choice

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Health care systems across the country are implementing healthy beverage programs in their facilities as a step toward reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and addressing nutrition-related chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Along with focusing on reducing unhealthy beverage options, it is important to send a positive message that includes what beverages are encouraged or supported as “healthy.” Promoting the consumption of tap water as a safe, affordable, environmentally responsible and healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages is consistent with the message of creating a healthy workplace environment that supports the broader community. Promoting tap water to patients, staff and visitors also educates our communities about the healthiest beverage of choice; one that reduces waste, is calorie-free, hydrating and helps to conserve a precious natural resource upon which all life depends.

While approximately 70 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water, only 1 percent of that water is suitable and accessible for human consumption. What seems like such a simple act of going to the tap and filling a glass with fresh, clean water is not so simple for the hundreds of millions of people across the globe who have limited access to this precious and dwindling resource. The statistics are staggering: 400 million children—one in five from the developing world—have no access to safe water. And 1.4 million children will die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.²

In some areas, depletion and pollution of economically important water resources have gone beyond the point of no return, and coping with a future without reliable water resources is a real prospect in parts of the world. UNESCO’s third World Water Development Report predicts that nearly half of humanity will live in areas of high water stress by 2030.²

U.S. Faces Critical Water Issues

Water scarcity is rapidly becoming a significant issue in the United States. Some areas of the nation are experiencing acute water shortages, a trend that could spread throughout the country, whether it be related to climate change and/or naturally occurring extended periods of drought coupled with the demands of increasing populations.³ The range of effects could include: long-term restrictions on home and community water usage; significant declines in agricultural output and meat and dairy production that require huge amounts of water for irrigation and sustenance; shortages of just about every product made using water-dependent manufacturing processes such as fossil fuels, steel, plastics and pharmaceuticals; and disruptions or complete shutdowns of several critical sources of hydroelectric power.

What does this have to do with health care in the U.S? A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and that 12 percent does not live in the Third World.4 Indeed, in this country we consume and use huge amounts of freshwater in our daily lives and in the daily operations of industry. The health care sector’s responsible use of water and the promotion of clean tap water over bottled water can help draw attention to the need for the protection of publicly accessible water resources and contribute greatly to resource conservation.

Drink up: Promote access to water in your hospital

Provide educational information on tap water
vs. bottled water, such as the cost savings
and environmental benefits of tap water and
the impact of bottled water on health and
the environment.

Cafeteria

  • Increase the number of filtered tap-water stations.
  • Provide easy access and clear signage to water fountains and dispensers.
  • Provide an incentive one day per week (“Water Wednesdays”) by offering a meal discount to those who utilize a reusable water bottle on their tray in the cafeteria.
  • Provide eco-friendly reusable water containers (for free or for purchase, with facility logo) and indicate availability through signage.

Catering

  • Offer water infused or garnished with citrus slices or herbs in large dispensers.
  • At meetings, serve ice and water in pitchers with reusable drinking glasses or compostable cups.

Patient areas

  • Use filtered tap water with reusable cups instead of bottled water on patient trays.

Bottled Water Is Wasteful

Bottled water is a resource-intensive product. Six times as much water is used in the production of bottled water as actually ends up inside the bottle, threatening local stream and groundwater supplies where water is bottled. Each year, close to 2 million tons of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles end up in landfills in the U.S., and less than 30 percent of these bottles is recycled.5

Nearly 50 percent of all bottled water is actually tap water, resulting in approximately 2.5 billion gallons of municipal tap water—which taxpayers pay to treat—being bottled and sold for $1 (or much more) every year.6 This is compared with just pennies per gallon when you get this same water directly from the tap.

Regulations for bottled water are generally weaker for some microbial contaminants. A recent study by the Environmental Working Group found a variety of pollutants such as fertilizer, pharmaceutical residues and cancer-causing chemicals in common bottled water brands.7 Bottled water, defined as a “food” in federal regulations, is under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while tap water, under much stricter standards, is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and closely monitored by local public utilities. The EPA does not allow residuals from human waste in city tap water and mandates that local water treatment plants provide city residents with a detailed account of their tap water’s source and the results of any testing, including contaminant-level violations. Bottled water companies are under no such directives.8

Promote the Positives of Tap Water

A first step in championing tap water is to ensure ready access to clean, attractive water fountains, coolers or filtered water units. Advertising government or independent testing of water can help build confidence in its safety. Tap-water promotion can also be achieved by distributing reusable water bottles through on-site stores or giveaways.

Hospitals can implement water conservation measures in their daily food service operations by purchasing Energy Star- and/or WaterSense-rated commercial food service equipment and replacing prerinse spray valves with low-flow alternatives. General beverage container reduction can be achieved by installing bulk/fountain dispensers in retail locations.

An integrated program of water conservation and promotion of tap water as a healthy beverage can go a long way toward the preservation of freshwater resources and can help to educate the community about the issue of access to clean drinking water as a basic human right.

 

References

  1. State of the World’s Children, 2005, UNICEF.
  2. “Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2010),” Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, May, 2010, P. 43.
  3. Federation for American Immigration Reform.
  4. Maude Barlow, “Water as Commodity—The Wrong Prescription,” The Institute for Food and Development Policy, Backgrounder, Summer 2001, Vol. 7, No. 3.
  5. Food and Water Watch. “Bluewashing: Why the Bottled Water Industry’s EcoFriendly Claims Don’t Hold Water.” March 22, 2010. Available at: www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/bluewashing, Aug. 27, 2011.
  6. Food and Water Watch. “Water=Life: How Privatization Undermines the Human Right to Water.” July 2011. Available at: documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/RighttoWater-FoodWaterWatch.pdf, Aug. 27, 2011.
  7. Naidenko O, Leiba N, Sharp R, Houlihan J. “Bottled Water Quality Investigation: 10 Major Brands, 38 Pollutants.” Environmental Working Group. October 2008. Available at: www.ewg.org/research/bottled-water-quality-investigation, Aug. 27, 2011.
  8. All About Water. Available at: www.allaboutwater.org, Aug. 24, 2010.