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An Aha! Moment: How to Reduce Plastic Water Bottle Waste at Airports

You start a project like this, and you notice that you’ll be asked to do a bit of thinking about how you might help make the world a better place. Scout badges are chock full of tasks intended to improve our homes, our communities, our planet.

And last January, after participating in No Impact Week, while sitting in an airport sipping my bottled water — incredibly, refreshing water — I got to thinking about airport water and all those nasty BPA-filled bottles we buy it in, and feeling bad about it. Then I came up with an idea about how to reduce plastic waste from airport water bottles. It Just. Wouldn’t. Go. Away.

It’s wrapped up in the video at the bottom of the post, and I’d love any feedback you might have to offer.


Remember when you saw your first commercial for bottled water? You laughed your ass off, didn’t you? It seemed insane to spend a couple of bucks on the stuff that was coming out of your tap at home, didn’t it?

That was some really good marketing at work. Within a few years, the bottled water industry had convinced a whole lot of people that tap water, or drinking fountains, provided substandard goodness. The irony is, most of the bottled water sold IS municipal, filtered tap water. It’s the same stuff coming out of your kitchen faucet. Bottled spring water gets to make that claim on the label; otherwise, you’re just paying for fancy tap water–at a price up to 10,000 times more than you’re paying for it at home.

Municipal water may not deserve the bad rap it’s gotten. There’s no doubt that all water is not created equal, but filtering your tap water using a simple system can help a lot. And I’m delighted to report that the Environmental Working Group rated Austin as having the 7th best municipal water in the U.S.

Austin’s water comes from the river flowing right through town–the Colorado River (no, probably not the one you’re thinking of, a different one). It’s processed through two water treatment plants that work to remove as many harmful or unpleasant contaminants as possible (bacteria, pesticides, waste, minerals, more), in the same way water is treated across the nation.

Want to know how your water stacks up? You can use the EWG’s online tool to find out about the quality of your water–and then check their list of water filters to see what will best solve your water’s issues.

Anyway, there I was, in the airport, drinking bottled water along with a ton of other passengers, thinking that there had to be a better way. Ever since 9/11, we’ve been unable to cross through security with bottled liquids, so bringing my own bottle of water through security was out… and yet…

Take a look at the video. I created it for Austin Bergstrom International Airport and recently had the opportunity to have it seen by several good folks there. I understand the idea was very well received by some, not so well by others, and I’ll leave it at that for the moment.

But this, my friends, is my idea to improve the planet. I also think it’s great business and would generate superb public relations. If Austin isn’t poised to do it right now, that doesn’t mean the idea dies — it means the idea is worth shopping around, and at some point, it will find a home. It’s a big idea — but it really is that good. 

So I encourage you to grab the beverage of your choice–in some kind of reusable glass, mug or bottle, of course–and check it out. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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2 thoughts on “An Aha! Moment: How to Reduce Plastic Water Bottle Waste at Airports

  1. Great presentation – there are many people out there who do this already (but not nearly enough) – some use their own water bottle some refill (yulk) a plastic water bottle. I do it already and the thing to remember is to make sure the bottle is empty when you go through security, they may look in your bag but if there is no liquid in the bottle they can’t say much. I haven’t lost a bottle yet – then again I only fly once to twice a year.

  2. Great idea, great presentation! You anticipated questions about why a traveler would or wouldn’t use a dispenser, and you convinced me. I saw a dispenser like this at my daughter’s college library; students make it a point to go there and use it. And a local elementary school recently installed a dispenser that is very popular. Those are free, but at an airport, where options are limited, a pay station would be expected. Hope you hear some positive feedback and implementation from ABIA!

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