Buy a Brita Filter, a Pur Filter, and a 3 gallon jug of commonly-used bottled water. You will also want to use tap water from your synagogue sink, unless there is a health-related problem with that water.
Set large pitchers with water from each of the four sources on a table. Each pitcher should have a notecard with a letter (A, B, C, D) written on one side and the source of the water written on the other side. Tape the cards to the table, in front of the pitchers, with the letter side up.
Have different members of the community taste each of the waters, and rank the taste of the water from 4 (best) to 1 (worst) on the attached grid. Two volunteers should be available to help pour the water and record assessments.
To minimize waste, use one cup for each of the 4 tastes. Ideally, people should bring there own cups, but if this is not possible, invite people to keep their cup and use it for the other drinks at the event. Paper cups are the least wasteful. Do not use Styrofoam as it is especially wasteful, and also affects the taste.
Once the pitchers are empty, calculate the scores that each of the waters received.
Quiet the group and tell them that you are going to share the results of the water tasting. Reveal each water in the order that it was ranked. “In first place, water A – which is _____! In second place, water C – which is _____!” Now tell them that you’d like to share a bit of information about the water they have been drinking.
Many people choose bottled water because they think it is safer or cleaner because of its “natural source.” This is not necessarily true. While most bottled water is low in minerals, depending on the rock formation from which the water flows, it could be contaminated with significant levels of lead, cadmium, aluminum, mercury and/or cadmium. Other contaminants that may be found in groundwater are organic matter (which can attract and feed bacteria), dissolved solids (especially a problem in carbonated bottled water), and mold. Mold is fed by the phthalate plasticizer in the bottles that often leaches out; phthalate is also hazardous to human health.
Both bottled water and tap water have government regulations that they are legally required to meet to ensure the water is clean and safe. However, while tap water is supervised by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), bottled water falls under the supervision of FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Since we spend anywhere from 240 to over 10,000 times more money on bottled water than we do on tap water, one might think the FDA would have more, and stricter requirements to make sure bottled water is safe and clean. However, in most cases, the rules for tap water, especially big city tap water, are stricter than the rules for bottled water. Bottled water has no disinfection requirement, while big city tap water does. Big city tap water is required to be tested hundreds of times a month for dangerous chemicals, while bottled water only needs to be tested once a week. Not only must local tap water be frequently tested for all types of chemicals, but the tests must also be released to the public. This is not true when it comes to bottled water.
A big city following the minimum requirements for testing and cleaning water is far more likely to be distributing cleaner and safer water than a bottled water company following the minimum requirements for testing and cleaning water.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) conducted a four year review of the bottled water industry, including independent testing of over 1,000 bottles of water from over 100 different brands. The review concluded that not all bottled water is of the same quality. They have various levels of different substances, some of which may be at a level which can be harmful. About a quarter of bottled water sold in the US is actually just tap water in a bottle. They found that 4% of bottled water violated federal drinking water standards, and another 33% violated state limits or guidelines for drinking water safety. (For more details on how individual brands tested, visit the Natural Resource Defense Council website). Share information about your local drinking water status.
There are also environmental implications to drinking bottled water. Assuming that the bottled water is from springs or ground water, pumping can affect lake and stream levels if too much is taken out. The transportation required to ship the water creates air pollution, and the sheer number of bottles used to contain and sell the water creates significant plastic waste: bottles which will last hundreds of years.
In the developing world, many people do not have access to any water except a local stream, and they might need to walk miles to get water from it. We have free, clean water [which may need to be filtered] coming from our own taps, but we choose to buy water in bottles at tremendous expense to our wallets and to the environment. And it is not necessarily any healthier!
Water facts and actions
The State of Our Water
- More than half of the world’s major rivers are seriously depleted and polluted. In the United States, more than a third (39%) of streams and rivers are impaired by pollution or habitat degradation, and an additional 8% are threatened.
- 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation.
- Twenty-five percent of the world’s population lives in countries approaching a position of serious water stress.
- Large predatory fish in our oceans have been reduced to a mere 10% of pre-industrial levels. That means that 90% of large fish (including tuna, marlin, sharks, cod, and halibut) have been removed.
What can I do?
- Turn off the faucet! Don’t let it run between washing for netilas yadayim, while brushing your teeth, or while lathering dishes.
- Eat sustainable seafood.
- In your yard, select plants that have low requirements for water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
- Use non-toxic cleaning alternatives and low-phosphate or phosphate-free detergents.
- Take unwanted household chemicals to hazardous waste collection centers; do not pour them down the drain.
- Eat less beef.
- Don’t buy bottled water. If you feel that your drinking water is not safe, filter your water.
- Buy eco-friendly products from companies like Seventh Generation.
Note that the paper goods being used are eco-friendly, recycled paper goods from Seventh Generation. Invite people to read and take home the Water Wheels and Stickers and put them to action in their home, including not buying bottled water.
[The filters may be ceremoniously given to people who ranked that water highest on the chart or by a raffle drawing (instead of a “water drawing”!).]