In years past, children coming off the school playground would run inside to line up in front of a drinking fountain. Today, many students are flocking to vending machines instead, where they shell out money to buy water in plastic bottles. Meanwhile, school water fountains are now often broken or shut off. This trend in schools mirrors a broader trend: As municipal water systems in the United States, built many years ago, are aging and in need of renovation, the bottled water industry is using glitzy corporate marketing campaigns to convince American consumers that packaged water is superior to water that comes out of the tap. Today, as more people are buying water out of plastic bottles, tap water infrastructure is falling into disrepair, and public sources of drinking water are disappearing.
But bottled water is not a replacement for municipal tap water, especially in schools. It is expensive, energy-intensive, environmentally damaging and creates mountains of plastic waste. Children, the most impressionable consumers, should not learn that bottled water is a substitute for tap water. Unfortunately, many students today go to school in an environment that is not conducive to drinking tap water and are surrounded by messages encouraging them to drink bottled water instead — whether because of legitimate safety concerns, lack of access to appealing tap water sources, sales of bottled water in schools, or marketing from the companies that sell the product. To reverse this trend, schools must be able to provide safe, accessible tap water for all students. There are many steps that individual schools can take to achieve these goals, but they all require funding. Cash-strapped schools with many competing priorities need incentive to teach the tap — which is why America’s schools need funding for water.