After a month of close competition, Food & Water Watch’s fourth annual Tap-a-Palooza contest wrapped on World Water Day, March 22. College students from across the United States competed to collect pledges to reduce bottled water consumption, and winners were chosen in two categories: total overall pledges and per capita pledges.
Montclair State University won first place in overall pledges, collecting an impressive 1,926 pledges. William & Mary won pledges per capita, with just over 20 percent of the student body taking the pledge. A record-breaking 7,400 total pledges were collected across all 34 participating schools. Both first place winners will receive a $1,500 prize toward water infrastructure improvements on campus.
The Tap-a-Palooza contest runs as part of Food & Water Watch’s larger Take Back the Tap campus campaign. Take Back the Tap encourages students to choose tap over bottled water when possible. Tap water undergoes more rigorous quality testing than bottled water and keeps unnecessary plastic out of the waste stream.
A Tap Water Revolution at Montclair State
Montclair State University ran an impressive campaign to collect pledges and take first place in the contest. However, student organizer Alessandro Ciari sees Tap-a-Palooza as just the beginning of a larger campus movement. Ciari first began working to reduce bottled water use on campus last year. As a public health student, he was concerned by the lack of environmental awareness on campus and realized he could be a catalyst for change.
“I noticed that this was an issue to capitalize on at Montclair,” said Ciari. “I realized I had to get politically active in reducing the use and really eliminating the use of plastic water bottles on campus.”
However, Ciari quickly realized that to make this goal a reality he first needed to address a seemingly prohibitive challenge: students at Montclair did not trust the tap water. “We had to really improve our water fountain infrastructure at the university before I could make any sort of mention of plastic water bottles,” said Ciari.
Wasting no time, Ciari set up meetings with the school administration to convince them to install refillable water stations around campus. Meanwhile, he began hosting film screenings and lectures to educate the student body on the benefits of switching to tap water.
“It was like a waterfall of support. We really started a green revolution and people really wanted to engage.”
Ciari attributes much of the success of the campaign to his focus on educating the community and laying the foundation for change. Once Montclair began installing refillable water stations around campus, the student body quickly got on board.
“By the time we started collecting petitions for Tap-a-Palooza this year, a lot of students already had refillable water stations…once [the administration] implemented a [few] of them, there was a huge demand for it. It was like a waterfall of support. We really started a green revolution and people really wanted to engage.”
Before the contest even came to a close, an administrator at Montclair State had pledged to match the funds if the students secured the victory for their school.
Winning Tap-a-Palooza is just the first of many rewards Ciari will see for his efforts. He is headed to the prestigious Society for Public Health Education conference in Charlotte, North Carolina next week and will speak at the Clean Water Action conference in New Jersey later this year. Ciari has also been invited to present at the Montclair State Student Research Symposium, where he will present his research and extensive campaign work.
William & Mary’s 2016 Comeback
Students from William and Mary Take Back the Tap
For William & Mary student organizers Sydney Scafidi and Kyle Parker, the Tap-a-Palooza contest was an important tool in strengthening an already established campus campaign. After a second place finish in both categories in 2015, William & Mary was a serious competitor from day one, leading the pack in both the overall and per capita categories for much of the month-long contest.
Scafidi and Parker, both first year students, took initiative early on to build their reach on campus. “We rode on that wave of visibility that we helped spur up last semester, especially with social media,” said Parker. “Sydney and I basically built our social media presence from the ground up.” But winning Tap-a-Palooza was a community effort. “We have a really strong internal group that helps us,” said Scafidi. “We could not have done this without them. Absolutely not.”
“We rode on that wave of visibility that we helped spur up last semester, especially with social media.”
The Take Back the Tap team at William & Mary are on the verge of passing a student resolution in support of banning bottled water. Scafidi and Parker see their Tap-a-Palooza win as a critical step in propelling their campaign forward. “We wanted to get this hard number [of pledges] and to get this recognition so we could get the ban [on plastic water bottles],” said Scafidi. “I mean that’s really what we’re trying to do.”
The Tap-a-Palooza prize money will help Scafidi and Parker get one step closer to that goal. “Our biggest short term goal is making sure that we have the water infrastructure to support banning,” said Parker. “Now we have $1500 dollars that we can use towards that.”