State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Water to Go: The Tapit Water Network

Many of us are already aware of the negative environmental impacts of bottled water and make a practice of carrying our own refillable water bottles. But what do you do when you’re out and about all day with no access to a tap?  Tapit has the solution.

The Tapit water network is an ever-expanding group of cafes and restaurants across the country willing to provide free tap water to anyone toting a reusable bottle. Established in 2008 by Kylie Harper, an entrepreneurial New Zealander, Tapit’s goal is to reduce our reliance on bottled water and the number of plastic bottles that end up in landfills by making it easier to fill our reusable water bottles at participating eateries (which Tapit calls “partners”).

“We now have 600 partners across 20 states in the U.S., with the majority in six main cities,“ William Schwartz, Tapit’s Campaign Director, told me. “And the idea is spreading around the world with some countries working with us and some starting their own version of the network—so far in London, Western Europe, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.”

In New York City, we’re fortunate to have some of the best drinking water in the country,  so it makes sense that Tapit originated here. In the beginning Harper and her volunteers went door to door asking restaurants to get involved. Now they partner with city governments to set up new locations, recruit through Facebook, and have volunteers in various cities signing up restaurants.

You can find places to fill up on Tapit’s searchable network or via a downloadable Tapit Water iPhone app that locks into your location and shows you Tapit partners within one to three miles. Tapit also aims to create a community of environmentally aware citizens and maintains a blog to educate the public about water issues around the world. You can follow Tapit on Twitter and Facebook. In addition, Tapit’s special Google map directs people to NYC water fountains, though Schwartz said that many NYC fountains are hard to use with refillable water bottles or aren’t working.

To promote NYC tap water, Mayor Bloomberg recently signed into law a new bill that will require all new water fountains to have a spout for refilling water bottles. He has also instituted Water-on-the-Go, a new program that will create ten new portable drinking fountains that are moved around the city. A dedicated Web site will provide updates on where and when the fountains will be available.

Schwartz said that rather than criticize the bottled water industry, “We try to focus on alternative solutions to bottled water…because it’s so easy not to use it.”

But in the U.S., despite the fact that municipal drinking water is regularly monitored and must meet safety standards, Americans drank 8.3 billion gallons of bottled water in 2006, about 26 gallons per person. The production of all these polyethylene terephthalate (PET) i.e. plastic bottles requires 17 million barrels of oil each year—enough to fuel a million cars. Transporting the bottles across the country consumes additional energy, pollutes the environment and produces greenhouse gases. In the end, two million tons of PET plastic bottles end up in our landfills every year and if incinerated, leave behind toxic byproducts.

Despite these environmental impacts, Americans willingly pay between $.89 to $8.26 per gallon of bottled water, compared to $.002 per gallon of tap water.

Is it worth it?  Is the impression promoted by water companies that bottled water is pure supported by facts? Actually 40 percent of bottled water is just tap water repackaged, and many water companies get their water from the underground sources that produce municipal drinking water. But whereas municipal tap water is rigorously monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act that sets national standards for drinking water, the Food and Drug Administration’s testing and monitoring of bottled water, which it considers a food product, is far less stringent. A study by the Environmental Working Group found that the ten brands of bottled water it tested all contained chemical contaminants, including toxic byproducts of chlorine.

Bottled water is no guarantee of purity, so bottle your own!

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13 years ago

Just wanted to let everyone know TapIt has started a new program where supporters can vote with their donations and decide where TapIt will take the program in the future.

Bring TapIt to your city!
Visit or visit and click on the red donations icon in the right hand corner.

12 years ago

What about water filters like Brita? Will they remove all the toxins/chemicals from tap water and are they are safer, more cost-effective alternative to bottled water?