COLUMBIA — Across the country, a controversy is raging over an element critical to life: water. Sprouting from environmental concerns about the resources used to make and transport bottled water, the mayors of San Francisco and Salt Lake City have banned the purchase of bottled water with city funds. And when school started this year at Nerinx Hall High School in St. Louis, students found vending machines without water; the Catholic school recently banned the bottled water, citing concern about the wastefulness of a product that comes out of the tap for a fraction of the cost.
But whether this awareness is trickling down to Columbia remains to be seen. During August alone, about 8,000 bottles of water were purchased at the Mizzou Markets and Brady Food Court. During the same time period, only about 700 cups of water were sold from the same outlets. The following is a snapshot of some of the issues at play:
Q. What is bottled water?
A. The Food and Drug Administration has six categories for bottled water:
- 1. Spring Water comes from underground sources that naturally flow to the earth’s surface.
Example: Ice Mountain
- 2. Purified Water is produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or other processes.
- 3. Mineral Water has a consistent level of mineral and trace elements at the source. No minerals can be added to this product.
Example: Nestle’s Contrex Natural Mineral Water
- 4. Sparkling Bottled Water is naturally carbonated although some carbon dioxide can be replaced after treatment.
Example: San Pellegrino
- 5. Artesian Water/Artesian Well Water comes from a well that taps a confined aquifer, which is a water-bearing underground layer of rock or sand.
- 6. Well Water comes from a well that taps underground aquifers.
Example: Not common
SOURCE: bottledwaterweb.com, fda.gov
Q. What is tap water?
A. Water that comes directly from a faucet. According to the 2007 Census of Missouri Public Water Systems, the average daily consumption of water is 8.8 million of gallons per day in Columbia. On the MU campus, the average daily consumption is 3 million gallons per day. Tap water also typically contains fluorine, as it does in Columbia, which helps strengthen teeth and prevent tooth decay. In 1974 the Safe Water Drinking Act was passed in order to give regulatory oversight of tap water to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Locally, water district facilities are regulated by the Department of Natural Resources.
Q. Which is safer: bottled or tap?
A. According to the EPA’s Web site, bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water. The EPA sets standards for tap water provided by public water systems. The FDA sets standards for bottled water based on the EPA’s tap water standards.
According to the International Bottled Water Association, many people choose bottled water because of taste preference, convenience, and safety.
Q. How does this affect Columbia?
A. Nearly 2.4 million people in Missouri depend on ground water as their main source of drinking water. One hundred percent of Columbia’s city water system is ground water. Bottled water costs much more than tap water, so the EPA suggests that consumers who choose to purchase bottled water should read its label to understand what they are buying – whether it is a better taste or a certain method of treatment.
On the MU campus, customers purchased 8,052 bottles of water during the month of August alone at one of the Mizzou Market locations and the Brady Food Court combined. About 715 cups were sold in the same month at a price of 10 cents each for water in the fountain beverage machine. Andrew Lough, the marketing manager for campus dining services said, “We have no efforts currently in place to lessen or increase the amount of bottled water sold. We have begun some discussion on the topic, but no final decisions or plans have been made.”
Q. Where can I recycle?
A. It depends on where you live. If you have weekly trash pick-up at your residence, you can also use the city’s blue bag program to recycle plastics and glass. The Columbia Public Works Department delivers blue bag three times a year. They can also be picked up at local grocery stores. For more information on curb side pickup, contact the Public Works Department at 874-6291.
Some residents — especially apartment dwellers — can recycle at drop-off locations. There are several places to recycle plastic containers, including Columbia College, Gerbes, Gray Oak Drive, Home Depot, Moser’s Discount Foods, the MU campus and Patricia’s IGA.
Q. Is anyone concerned about bottled water consumption?
A. At MU, several efforts have been made to increase recycling awareness. The largest of these is Tiger Tailgate Recycling, which targets home football games. According to Mike Ritta, the director of food services for MU athletics, about 5,000 bottles of water are sold at each game. Cups can be purchased and filled with water from drinking fountains. Ritta said employees will not fill cups with tap water.
Ben Datema, the president of Sustain Mizzou and member of the MU Recycling Committee, said that during the two years in which Tiger Tailgate Recycling has been in effect, more than 31 tons have been recycled. Other recycling efforts include RecycleMania, a nationwide competition among college campuses; and Recycle Mountain, an annual awareness event in which about 8,700 pounds of recyclables are stacked in Lowry Mall. The trash is a visual representation of the estimated amount of recyclable material that gets pitched daily on campus.