Taking back the tap

Celebrities glorify them in glossy adverts and, like jeans and handbags, there’s branded bottled water to suit every image.

Bottled water is not just about on-the-go thirst quenching but has become an accessory piece.
But a Wits lecturer feels bottled water should not be sold or served at functions on campus and that, as a university, Wits should encourage tap water.
“I would like to have it banned from Wits functions to set an example to our students, visitors and staff. We need to lead, not pander,” says Donald McCallum, research media officer at the Life Sciences Museum.
McCallum has already stopped it at the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences (APES) whose museum is used for events. Jugs of tap water are now offered and many people at APES are in agreement, “because being biologists we are aware of how critical it is that everyone make more sustainable choices”.
McCallum feels that by serving bottled water at functions, Wits gives it legitimacy as a fault-free product.
Wits marketing manager Ferna Clarkson – who McCallum made the suggestion to a few years ago – does recall a suggestion was made but cannot remember who made it.
She says it was never proposed on a senior level and through policy. Wits functions do serve bottled water and Clarkson says she “is not a scientist and cannot comment on [whether] it should be stopped”.
McCallum says he does not know “how to influence institutional policy”, but runs a PowerPoint presentation on the museum’s public screens and raises the issue with students.
Bottled water is criticised for the high amounts of oil and energy used in groundwater extraction and the production of plastic bottles.
Environmentalists also disapprove of it as some of it tested, is just bottled tap water; it is less regulated for contamination and 80% of the plastic bottles end up in landfills. It also costs about 2000 times more than tap water, a glass of which costs just a few cents.
While Wits does not have many tap water points, new taps have been installed at the school of law on West Campus where water bottles can be refilled. Andries Norval, grounds facilities manager of property and infrastructure, says “future plans for additional drinking fountains are mainly planned adjacent to sports fields for obvious reasons”.