Aspen Tap challenge begins campaign to market city water
June 30, 2011
ASPEN – The results are in: Nine out of 10 random respondents to an informal survey conducted Wednesday behind Aspen City Hall chose Aspen Tap over two commercially sold bottled-water brands.
Many of the participants were city employees. But they didn’t know what type of water was in the three unmarked containers, nor did the others who walked up to the taste-testing booth.
City officials denied that the competition was rigged. The event proved that Aspen’s municipal water stacks up well against two other brands – Dasani and Fiji – in the areas of taste, odor and the ability to quench a thirst, and has a nice finish, officials said.
Actually, the water was not evaluated as comprehensively as a fine wine. But it was the overwhelming favorite of the 20 or so people who took the Aspen Tap challenge, described as a “fun way” to kick off the city’s campaign to wean people off of water sold in environmentally unfriendly plastic bottles.
“Nine out of 10 of those randomly surveyed chose Aspen Tap as the water they would drink a full glass of,” said Ashley Cantrell, a city environmental health specialist. She and City Councilman Torre are spearheading the campaign.
“The survey doesn’t say anything bad about the other two brands,” Cantrell said. “We’re trying to promote our water. When people talk about bottled water, they have this image that comes from mountain streams and pristine environments, and they don’t realize that’s exactly where Aspen’s tap water comes from.”
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As part of the same initiative, the city has installed three new “filling stations” where people can fill up their reusable water containers for free. They are green, of course, in fitting with the city’s goal of setting an example of environmental stewardship.
Not only is the city giving away and promoting its tap water, it’s also selling reusable containers made of stainless steel. They carry the Aspen Tap logo along with a message, “Better Than Bottled.” A tag at the top of each container has a map showing the station locations and some quick facts about the effect of bottled water on the environment.
Each year, for instance:
• U.S. demand for bottled water requires 17 million barrels of oil.
• Four billion pounds of plastic bottles end up in landfills or as litter.
• Only 15 percent of plastic bottles are recycled.
The city has ordered 4,000 containers, at a cost of less than $6 each, and is selling 3,500 of them for $10 apiece, Cantrell said. Locations where they can be found include, but are not limited to, the Aspen Saturday Market, Ute Mountaineer, Aspen Velo, Aspen Recreation Center and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. The other 500 are being given away for promotional reasons.
The city is not looking to make a profit off of container sales, Cantrell said, just looking to recoup some of its costs.
She said when the initiative got under way earlier this year, the stores around town that sell large amounts of bottled water said they did so because they didn’t know Aspen municipal water was safe. There also was the convenience component, with many people saying the reason they preferred bottled water was because it’s easily taken on hikes and from place to place.
“That hinted to us that we needed to do more education and we needed to get reusable bottles into people’s hands. We needed them to be accessible, cheap and something that people will want to keep,” Cantrell said.
The idea for the Aspen Tap campaign grew from something Torre witnessed last December while vacationing in the British Virgin Islands. While sailing through the open waters, he saw numerous clusters of plastic bottles floating along the way.
After he returned to Aspen, at a January work session, he brought up the idea of introducing some sort of limitation on bottled-water sales within the city. That preliminary idea evolved into the current campaign; city officials decided they wanted to initiate a positive community campaign in lieu of the heavy-handedness of a ban.
Torre said people should use Aspen Tap for health reasons.
“What we’ve seen is that Aspen tap water is a healthy choice,” he said. “For the people I represent, and the people who visit Aspen, I am for their health and I want to support that.”
Torre added that another good reason would be the environmental benefits of setting a community standard for reducing reliance on bottled water.
“There’s a responsibility that we all share to try to protect our earth,” he said, “not just because of the bottle itself and its disposal and the fact that it doesn’t break down in our landfills. Or when they end up in our rivers or on our streets and when they are decomposing and leeching their toxins into our system.”
Just as important, he said, is the need to reduce bottled-water use because of the environmental cost of delivering water from around the world. “It’s an expense that I don’t think our earth and the global community can really afford anymore.”