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In the heart of our communities, there exists an environmental challenge in schools. Students of all ages rush through corridors, often clutching single-use plastic water bottles, unwittingly contributing to an issue with global consequences. Experts say by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish (by weight), reports the World Economic Forum (https://bit.ly/3rqzzu7).
Water bottles are a major source of pollutants in the world. Yet, hope springs from unexpected sources.
At the crossroads of education and environmental stewardship stands the plumbing engineer — a vital part of the community, much like the schools they serve.
Plumbing engineers are vital for maintaining safe drinking water in schools. They ensure public health and safety, compliance with regulations, prevent contamination and often oversee maintenance. In essence, plumbing engineers are crucial for providing clean and safe drinking water in schools. Yet, students, staff and parents still may not trust the tap and instead opt for single-use plastic water bottles.
Upon review of several studies conducted in different universities worldwide, researchers determined that perceptions about water quality drive the choice between bottled water and tap water, notes Water Science & Technology magazine (https://bit.ly/3EOp1rQ). Those perceptions include how the water tastes, looks and smells and whether or not people think the water is safe to drink. Other factors come down to personal preference, convenience and price.
Interestingly, while many survey participants said they trusted they were getting safe drinking water from the tap, the majority said they couldn’t know for sure. Of those unsure, 76% said they wouldn’t know where to find that information. Only 20% of the participants believed bottled water quality is superior to tap water.
The question we must then ask is, if most people think tap water is probably safe to drink, how do we convince them to drink from water fountains and coolers and top off reusable bottles at bottle-filling stations?
Plastic Single-Use Water Bottle Bans: Still Impactable
Only a few universities have implemented a single-use plastic bottle ban. While students like this idea and usually drive the change, it’s not always practical. Some of the biggest hurdles to overcome are schools’ contracts with beverage companies supplying bottled water, sodas, juice and energy drinks.
There is also a concern that if schools eliminate water as an option at campus vending machines, students will be forced to choose less healthy options. Of course, installing hydration stations, whether drinking fountains, water coolers or bottle fillers, to provide students with easy access to water alleviates that concern.
Universities and K-12 schools that find a ban impractical can still reduce single-use water bottles by learning from schools that successfully implement total bans. One of those successes is the Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC) Schools, a nonprofit charter school organization comprising 14 schools authorized by the Los Angeles Unified School District (https://bit.ly/3PLQArX).
How did they do it? According to Pathwater, the schools’ partner in implementing the ban, there were three key components (https://bit.ly/46f444Q):
Providing affordable, reusable, 100% recyclable aluminum bottles;
Availability of water refill stations (one of Murdock Mfg.’s H2O-to-Go! touchless water bottle filling station per 2,000 students);
Environmental education to encourage reuse and recycling.
The first two critical components are simple, as solutions are widely available. It’s the third, education and advocacy, and the role the plumbing engineer can play that we want to focus on here.
Is Tap Water Safe to Drink?
The study shows us that even when people think tap water is safe, they don’t have evidence to support that opinion. On the one hand, they’ve been told their water is safe; on the other hand, they’ve also heard story (https://bit.ly/450ZZjO) after story (https://bit.ly/3LxLUDs) of tainted water supplies. It’s no wonder there is so much confusion.
It’s also no wonder that even people concerned about the amount of plastic in the environment will grab bottled water from convenience stores. First, it’s readily available and second, better safe than sorry.
This is where plumbing engineers can give their clients and community added value. Instead of only working behind the scenes, doing your part to ensure the water systems are safe and compliant, be an educator and advocate!
A plumbing engineer can raise awareness about the importance of drinking water quality and help reduce the use of plastic water bottles in various ways:
• Educational workshops and seminars. Organize workshops or seminars for school administrators, staff, parents and students to educate them about the significance of drinking water quality. Explain potential risks, health implications and ways to ensure safe water.
Bring along the local utility’s Consumer Confidence Report (always accessible via your utility’s website). This includes information such as the source of the drinking water; any risk of contamination of that source; levels of any contaminants in the drinking water; information on nitrate, arsenic or lead in areas where these contaminants may be a concern; and much more.
• Informational brochures and pamphlets. Create informational materials explaining water quality and distribute them in schools. Include practical tips on how to identify and report water quality issues. You can also create posters next to hydration stations, simplifying the information gleaned from the utility’s Consumer Confidence Report.
• Public speaking. Offer to speak at school board meetings, parent-teacher association gatherings or school assemblies to address any concerns about water quality. Use real-world examples of the effects single-use plastic bottles have on the environment.
• Online resources. Develop a website or online platform where people can easily access information on water quality, its significance and steps they can take to reduce their reliance on single-use plastic water bottles. Share articles, videos and infographics to engage a wider audience.
• Collaboration with health professionals. Partner with local health-care professionals or environmental agencies to co-host events or discussions about water quality at schools, places of employment and homes and its health implications. This interdisciplinary approach can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the issue.
• Social media campaigns. Use social media platforms to share facts, tips and updates related to water quality. Engage with the school community through posts, stories and live sessions to answer questions and address concerns.
• Water-testing programs. While your utility can guarantee the drinkability of the water it sends out of its facility, what happens after that is no longer their responsibility. Offer to conduct school water quality testing and share the results with the school community. Highlight any areas of concern and provide recommendations for improvement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed an “Increasing Access to Drinking Water in Schools” toolkit that includes information about how to communicate testing results, whether positive or negative (https://bit.ly/450xJ0W).
• Partnerships with environmental organizations. Collaborate with environmental organizations focusing on water quality and conservation. The organizations are often equipped to talk to all age groups, and joint initiatives can help raise awareness on a larger scale. When you help people better understand where their water comes from, you raise awareness of the importance of stewardship of their local watershed — including keeping it free of plastics.
• Community events. Participate in community events, fairs or health expos where you can set up a booth or demonstration related to water quality. This provides an opportunity to engage with a broader audience.
• Engage with local media. Write op-eds or articles for local newspapers or magazines about school water quality concerns. Interviews on local radio or TV stations can also help spread the message and provide excellent exposure for your company.
• Demonstrations and tours. Offer tours of the school’s plumbing infrastructure to students, parents and staff. Show them the various components and explain how they contribute to water quality.
• Advocacy. Advocate for policies and regulations that promote water quality in schools. Engage with local government officials and school boards to push for improved water infrastructure and regular testing.
Using these methods, plumbing engineers can effectively raise awareness about the importance of drinking water quality, empowering schools and their communities to take proactive steps to ensure safe and clean water for all.
By posting eye-catching posters with up-to-date information alongside hydration stations, you can reassure students, faculty and staff that the water is safe to drink. You can go the extra mile by ordering water coolers and bottle fillers with a filtration system for added peace of mind.
Murdock Manufacturing engineers and manufactures durable, reusable bottle-filling stations ideal for schools of any type. They are sensor-operated to help prevent the spread of germs and the optional filters are NSF 42 and 53 certified as well as NSF 372 compliant.
Traci Browne is a freelance writer specializing in manufacturing, engineering and emerging technologies.