This story was corrected on July 12, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
Americans bought nine billion gallons of bottled water in 2011, according to leading industry consultant Beverage Marketing Corp.
It’s a trend environmentalists — and now the City of Rockville — warn increases pollution despite the clean, readily accessible alternative of tap water.
The city is pushing local businesses to join the TapIt network, a nationwide campaign that encourages shopkeepers to allow residents to fill up reusable water bottles with tap water, instead of buying and then throwing away plastic bottles.
“It just encourages beneficial behavior,” said Erica Shingara, Rockville sustainability coordinator. “The bottled water marketers have produced some doubts in people’s minds, but municipal tap water exceeds safe standards. It provides many benefits.”
Shingara pointed to Rockville’s annual drinking water quality report, released July 1, that proves the city-run water system meets all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water safety standards.
William Schwartz, campaign director for TapIt, said the program’s goal is to change negative perceptions about the cleanliness of tap water. TapIt was started in 2009 by a small group of New Yorkers as its own nonprofit organization.
“It’s to kind of create a brand that lets people know they’re getting safe water,” Schwartz said. “We work with cities that we know are providing clean and safe tap water, so when you’re using the TapIt system, you know what you’re getting.”
However, not everyone in Rockville thinks the program constitutes a positive.
Nimal Premaratne, owner of the 7-Eleven franchise at the intersection of Frederick and Redland roads, said bottled water makes up a significant portion of his store’s sales.
The convenience store regularly sells two bottles of water for the price of one.
“They should not do something that’s going to hurt city businesses,” Premaratne said. “That’s bad for business.”
TapIt, which first found success in New York City before growing to Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other cities, cited industry sources in claiming 50 percent of bottled water is repackaged tap water. In 2007, Pepsi-Cola famously announced it would change the labels on its Aquafina bottled water brand to make it clear the product was tap water.
It also cites research that states 17 million barrels of oil are consumed annually in the production of plastic water bottles, and that $1 billion worth of plastic is dumped in U.S. landfills every year.
The TapIt program is free to Rockville. It entails a website through which residents can find participating restaurants in which they are allowed to fill up water bottles for free.
Rockville has signed on six TapIt participants. The goal is 125 businesses, Shingara said.
“People who know about it, love it,” said Jenn Rogers, vice president of marketing for Mayorga Coffee, which has two participating locations in Rockville. “I think more people should travel with a bottle and it should be promoted.”
The Animal Exchange, CakeDreams, MOM’s Organic Market and Whole Foods also are participating.
Schwartz said the TapIt website gets a few thousand hits a month from the greater Washington, D.C., area. Shingara said she is hoping to use the city’s positive marks on its recent drinking water report as a local tie-in to a broader issue.
But they know community buy-in will require a big adjustment. The nine billion gallons of bottled water Americans bought in 2011 translates to a per capita consumption of 29 gallons, according to a report Beverage Marketing Corp. released in May.
Rogers, who carries around a reuseable water bottle, said Mayorga still stocks bottled water.
“It’s not a huge part of our business,” Rogers said. “But we carry that stuff because people ask for it.”
The story incorrectly stated that TapIt was started as an initiative of Carbonfund.org. TapIt was started independently from CarbonFund.org as its own nonprofit organization. It is a member of CarbonFund.org.