If Cherrie Lam had her way, there would hardly be a disposable plastic water bottle in the city.
Lam, a second year UBC student, is part of an initiative called "I'd Tap That - Richmond Against Bottled Water." Along with members Lilian Lau, Elizabeth To and Ricky Gu, the initiative that started as a microeconomics policy project has started to gain traction.
"All the Richmond high schools now have at least one water bottle filling station. You don't have to touch it, it automatically dispenses into your water bottle," said Lam. "We're pushing for community centres, elementary schools and the library to adopt this too. Then people would get more accustomed to bringing their water bottles out instead of buying bottled water all the time."
The 19-year-old first became passionate about water stewardship as a Grade 10 student at Steveston London secondary school. Lam entered a winning video about water recycling systems she made for BC Hydro's Invent the Future contest - encouraging youth to develop creative solutions to B.C.'s sustainability challenges. The project eventually led to her becoming involved with Youth4Tap, a Vancouver-based group focused on local water conservation. It was there that Lam realized there were many other proponents of tap water consumption.
"University kind of came along, and I fell out of involvement with the group," said Lam, laughing. Then, when this project at UBC came along, it automatically clicked with me what topic we should pick," she said. And "I'd Tap That" was born.
Lam and her team members formulated a proposal they have since submitted to schools, community centres and shopping malls in Richmond, along with the City of Richmond, based on a three-pronged strategy:
- Education: Educate the public on the negative impacts of bottled water, such as misconceptions of recycling as well as environmental and health concerns, and raise awareness on the benefits of drinking tap water;
- Accessibility: Add more water bottle filling stations in community facilities to make tap water more accessible;
- Policy: Implement policy to ban the sale of bottled water on public or municipal properties, such as schools and community centres.
Lam said the latter strategy is proving to be the most challenging to implement. In 2009 the city looked into banning bottled water sales in municipal facilities with public access but faced arguments such as plastic water bottles only contribute negligible effects to waste, and a ban would cause harm to the bottled water industry resulting in a loss of jobs. I'd Tap That has addressed these with counter-arguments in the proposal.
Other obstacles Lam and the others have faced has been having their proposal pass through several hands without receiving any response, or establishments already having existing contracts with companies like Coca Cola or Pepsi.
Right now, the team is in discussions to partner with the Richmond School board and host a lesson plan with activities to teach students about tap water.
They're also trying to get high schools to install more than one water bottle refill station.