Taking plastic out of the flow of drinking water

After blanketing Island schools, Vineyard Conservation Society seeks other public access points to ‘Take Back the Tap.’

From left, Siana Solarazza, Evie Moffat, Hazel Hearn, and Francis Moffat drink water from a refill station at the Tisbury School. - Rich Saltzberg

With the recent installation of a water refill station at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, a Vineyard Conservation Society project called “Take Back the Tap” has completed a K-12 sweep of the Island’s schools.

The conservation society has now set its sights on well-trafficked, public areas in each Island town, according to programs and membership coordinator Signe Benjamin. To that end, locating the stations in or nearby public restrooms would be “ideal,” Ms. Benjamin emailed The Times.

“The next tier of locations we would like to see would be public [recreation] areas like Veteran’s Field in Vineyard Haven or Niantic Park in Oak Bluffs. Other ideal locations would be in SSA terminals and on ferries, and all public libraries,” she wrote.

Vineyard Conservation Society is talking with officials from the six towns about the installation of these stations, and roundly found support, outreach coordinator Samantha Look told The Times.

“It really is a question of both logistics — which locations make the most sense and have drinking water that is easy to tap into — and funding,” she said. “But the towns also have realized quickly how there could be financial and logistical benefits, in terms of reduced plastic waste that the towns are overflowing with, and have to manage during the busy season, and in one case offsetting bottled water that is now being purchased.”

The stations cost a minimum of $3,000 apiece, and can range up $10,000 depending on the complexity of their plumbing, in addition to other installation factors, Ms. Look said. An anonymous donor footed the bill for all of the school stations, Ms. Benjamin said.

Free of charge, the stations dispense chilled water in a downward stream into a vessel the user provides. A carbon filter removes lead, chlorine, copper, and other potential contaminants.

In the schools, they’ve been installed in conjunction with bubblers to form what Vineyard Conservation Society ecologist Jeremy Houser terms “hybrid” stations. According to Ms. Look, they are meant to encourage reusable bottle use and curb plastic waste. Each station has a digital counter that shows the number of disposable bottles eliminated based on the volume of water dispensed over time.

A priority is keeping plastic out of the environment, Ms Look said. For students and school staff who enjoy the current refill stations, and others who will patronize future public stations, she said, it was worthwhile to consider the materials that make up your reusable water container.

“Our recommendation would be avoiding plastic — just for personal health and because plastic still presents a disposal problem once it gets to the end of its useful life,” she said. “But we are really just excited to get people involved and excited to be part of a reuse culture, so really whatever they feel most comfortable using is fine. There are lots of great options for sale locally.”