Student environmentalists push for more sustainable hydration

The Student Government Board has introduced another green initiative to its smattering of environmentally friendly policies this semester.

Environmental Committee Chairwoman Kacy McGill has been working with Board member Mona Kazour and students from Pitt’s chapter of Take Back the Tap on the latest green initiative that Kazour introduced to the Board at Tuesday’s public meeting. 

Take Back the Tap is a national green initiative that aims to reduce the number of disposable plastic bottles in favor of reusable water bottles. 

The initiative belongs to the Food and Water Watch, a national organization that works to ensure that provisions of food and water are healthy, sustainable and accessible.

Seniors Sarah Boorboor and Melanie Ordway  have been working together as co-presidents of Pitt’s Take Back the Tap, which they founded in fall 2012. 

Boorboor, a political science and English writing major, said her sister previously worked for the GreenCorps — a nonprofit organization that trains environmental activists — and introduced Boorboor to the Food and Water Watch and the Take Back the Tap initiative in the fall of 2012.

Boorboor said representatives from the Food and Water Watch presented her with information about the impact of unrecycled plastic water bottles on the environment through web-based presentations and information packets. 

“The more I learned, the more passionate I became about the issue,” Boorboor said. 

According to the Food and Water Watch’s official website, only about 25 percent of plastic water bottles are recycled in the United States. 

McGill said that she and other students involved in the Take Back the Tap initiative asked managers of on-campus vendors who sell bottled water for weekly totals of the number of bottles sold.

She added that she and the other students calculated an average of about 9,000 plastic water bottles sold by on-campus vendors per week. McGill also said that that figure does not include plastic water bottles sold from vending machines on campus. 

Boorboor then approached Ordway, an environmental studies and business major, to gauge her interest in spreading the movement to Pitt. 

“My initial thought was, ‘Why haven’t we done this sooner?’” Ordway said. 

The two then-juniors began holding meetings to discuss the initiative.

“It started out as us and a few of our friends,” said Ordway. “We were able to gain more support by going to other clubs’ meetings and reaching out out to people by tabling in [Litchfield] Towers lobby.”

The group now has about 10 regular members, according to Ordway. They’ve also formed a coalition with other student organizations dedicated to environmental initiatives: Free the Planet and Students for Sustainability.

The three environmental groups meet every Wednesday to discuss green initiatives. 

McGill said that during last February’s Blitz Week — a week when Take Back the Tap, Free the Planet and Students for Sustainability tried to collect as many signatures as they could on campus for a petition to ban the sale of bottled water — the three student groups collected more than 1,000 signatures. “The movement isn’t to necessarily stop the sale of water bottles, but to also make a statement,” Boorboor said. “We don’t agree with what companies selling bottled water are doing and we have the power to stop it.” 

Take Back the Tap started at New York University in 2008, according to Campaign Director Dorothy Qian. 

Qian, who is an intern with Food and Water Watch, said she revived the campaign at NYU after the students who started the initiative at NYU graduated. 

Qian said the NYU chapter of Take Back the Tap is a coalition of students, faculty, alumni and community members who are “striving to ban the sale of plastic water bottles at New York University.” 

“The Take Back the Tap campaign at NYU is still going strong,” Qian said. “Activists are continuing to collaborate with administrators at NYU and Food and Water Watch to design a public awareness campaign and prepare to phase out bottled water from campus.” 

Qian said regular Take Back the Tap activities hosted by the group at NYU include tap water versus bottled water taste tests, tabling across campus to inform students about the impacts bottled water has on the environment and reusable water bottle drives where environmental groups collect reusable water bottles for students to use in place of plastic water bottles.

Qian said the reusable bottle drives are meant to help students “kick the bottled water habit.”

Student Government Board President Mike Nites said the Board will deliberate over the initiative for the next week. 

Nites said that before supporting an initiative such as Take Back the Tap, the Board must confirm the initiative’s feasibility and support among the student body.

He said the Board ensures that the initiative is feasible by evaluating the success of similar programs at other schools.

“If [the program] is feasible at another school, it’s probably feasible here, too,” Nites said. 

Nites also said the Board must have evidence that the student body supports the initiative and will likely hold an official vote on the initiative at the Board’s public meeting this Tuesday. 

“I think plastic water bottles are very ingrained into our thought process,” Nites said. “The Board needs to ask if [the initiative] is something the student body wants as opposed to just the groups pushing for it.”