Project Tap That's goal is to educate UW students about the harmful effects of single-use plastic water bottles on the environment and promote the use of reusable water bottles and fountains. Many students do not equate their food and consumption choices with real world problems because the effects are not immediately (or ever) felt or seen by the consumer. Project Tap That aims to bridge the educational gap between student consumption and environmental impacts by starting a conversation on campus about plastic bottles and the importance of reusable bottles. The project will achieve this by producing and distributing educational materials, such as posters, signs, and stickers, raising awareness of the campaign by distributing water bottles, hosting documentary screenings, and working with the UW School of Art to create a striking art piece made entirely out of recycled plastic bottles. These events will stimulate student thought about the impacts of their choices.
Single-use plastic water bottles are extremely harmful to the environment in every stage of the product's life cycle. It takes approximately 17 to 20 million barrels of oil just to manufacture the plastic bottles each year. A more comprehensible figure is that it takes roughly 1/4 bottle of oil to produce just one plastic bottle. When the oil used to transport water bottles is added to the manufacturing estimate, the figure jumps to over 50 million barrels of oil each year. When plastic bottles are transported, carbon emissions are pumped into the air, which exacerbates the effects of climate change. In addition to oil, it takes three liters of water in order to produce just one liter of bottled water. After bottled water is purchased and consumed, the bottle becomes yet another challenge. Two million tons of plastic water bottles end up in landfills, where they never truly degrade. Plastic bottles that are incinerated produce toxic fumes, and bottles that end up in the ocean break into tiny pieces that are ingested by marine wildlife. Plastic water bottles contribute to climate change, overconsumption of natural resources, and the deaths of thousands of marine wildlife. Reducing and eventually eliminating plastic water bottles from UW’s campus will reduce the university’s indirect consumption of oil, energy, and water. It will also lead to important social change that is necessary for more sustainable consumption choices.
Studies have shown that tap water is the same as, or higher quality, than bottled water. In fact, more than 25 percent of bottled water is just tap water in a bottle. Tap water is highly regulated, whereas bottled water regulations can be more lax. The University of Washington can make real strides towards sustainability by strongly discouraging the purchase of bottled water on campus.
This project was inspired by the ban of plastic water bottles on several prominent Washington university campuses, namely Seattle University and Western Washington University. While currently it would be very difficult to initiate a ban on selling plastic water bottles on UW’s campus due to the contract that is in place with the Coca-Cola company, the formerly mentioned universities were able to overcome this same issue by creating an educational campaign centered around the importance of reusable water bottles. These campaigns eventually lead to widespread student support followed by faculty support of the initiative. After the student’s and faculty were all in agreement, the campuses were able to start the conversation with Coca-Cola and renegotiate their contract to exclude single-use plastic water bottles. These campuses have provided the framework for us to start a similar campaign as well as the precedence for our long-term goal of banning the plastic water bottle to succeed. Both of the campaigns launched by these schools started with just a few students looking to make a difference and they slowly evolved into great projects that led to important social change.
The first leg of Project Tap that will focus on spreading educational materials about the social, environmental, and economic impacts of single-use plastic water bottles, the importance of reusable water bottles, as well as information about how to properly dispose of plastic materials. Educational materials will consist of posters and signage that will be placed in high volume buildings on campus, as well as pamphlets and signage for a campaign table. We are working with graphic design students to design visual media, but our rough estimate for educational materials at this point is $500. We would also like to purchase 1,000 wholesale stainless steel water bottles with customized “Project Tap That UW” logos as a promotional give-away to students who attend documentary screenings. This will stimulate the use of reusable bottles on campus. The bottles will also potentially be used as free prizes for participating in campaign booth events. Wholesale bottle prices are widely variable but we have chosen a BPA-free aluminum bottle that is manufactured in Washington in order to support sustainable, local investment. The bottles are estimated at $11.50 each, so 1,000 would come out to $11,500. We are in the process of obtaining more specific information about tax, shipping & handling, and other potential charges. Our current vision for the art project is a large 3D art piece made from plastic water bottles, which would be temporarily displayed in the HUB with permission from Lincoln Johnson, director of the HUB. This visual statement would be created in collaboration with students from the UW School of Art and would feature an educational component by showing and informing students about the large amount of plastic bottles that are consumed. Project Tap That has been granted permission by UW Recycling to collect plastic bottles for the art piece in designated bins during spring quarter, which will be placed in cafes and other locations on campus. Our current estimate for art supplies to create this piece is $174.09, but will likely change depending on the artist’s vision after we recruit students willing to work on the project. Our total cost estimate at this stage in our project for education materials, art supplies, and reusable water bottles is $12,174.09.