In case you have yet to discover this for yourself, the Rochester Museum and Science Center, located a mere three-and-a-half miles from campus, is awesome.  Seriously awesome.

I found this out not too long ago myself– my first  visit was just last week, as Team Green was invited to come present at an event they were holding, MISSION:GREEN.  This program was meant to educate visitors on how they could live more sustainably, and other presenters talked about upcycling, wetland conservation, and what runoff is and how families can try to prevent it, among other things.  It was a really neat event, full of fun demonstrations and activities for the kids coming through, and I’m really glad we got to go out and be a part of it.


For our part, we decided to talk about tap water vs. bottled water– no surprise there!  We had information on where tap water comes from, how it is cleaned, and even demonstrated a small, homemade filter.

We reused an empty 2-liter bottle to build our filter, and it allowed us to show how effective such filters are at cleaning icky water (our dirty water had mud, leaves, plastic, and oil).


And what would a Saturday afternoon be without some fun crafts?  We also made fake tie-dye Earths out of coffee filters (because, you know, filtration).


Of course, the take home message wasn’t actually about how tap water is well-filtered and therefore just as clean as bottled water– even though it is– but rather that we shouldn’t take advantage of that fact by mucking up our water.  Adding contaminants means that it takes more energy to clean our water, and that has a negative environmental cost all on its own.

And, of course, the other take home message: your local museum and science center is way cool and you should go visit.  Just make sure to bring a reusable water bottle!



Author: Charlotte Humes


Local Foods Week 2014!

Hey, y’all!  It’s once again Local Foods Week, when Dining Services celebrates all things local to Rochester.

We’ve already held an Earth Day lunch on Tuesday (complete with potato gnocchi and tofu with bok choy and rice), and tonight was the local beer pairing dinner in the Meliora.  Despite not being able to enjoy the local beer, us under-21’ers still got a four course dinner full of local foods, and the marvelous evening entertainment provided by No Jackets Required; no wonder the event was sold out.

Don’t worry if you couldn’t make it tonight, though, there’s still time to get involved with LFW!  Tomorrow you can sample coffee in Connections 11-2, and enjoy the “Celebrate Rochester” in Douglass 5-8 PM.  On Friday, Danforth will be serving a local brunch, and you can take a break from the Dandelion Day festivities to stop by Douglass, which will be serving your favorite street foods all day.

Wondering where all this food is coming from?  Wonder no more, for Danny has put together a guide for the week.  Check out the vendors below, who make LFW possible.

Vendor Map

As always, if you have any questions (or suggestions for something you think should be a part of next year’s Local Foods’ Week) then let us know!  In the meantime, grab something delicious and local.


Author: Gabryella Pulsinelli

Is Name Brand Water Really Better Than Tap Water?

Bottled water is basically the name brand of water.  It’s 2,000 times as expensive as tap, for a similar product with a nice logo.  Most people paying a higher price for a product they could get cheaply assume that there is some advantage to their purchase—that they’re getting a superior product, something of higher quality.  So when comparing bottled and tap water side-by-side, does bottled come out on top?

As you all learned from the last posts, different organizations regulate bottled and tap water, but here’s the kicker: The FDA adopted standards for bottled water based on EPA’s standards for tap water.  There is no difference between them.  Not a tangible one, certainly.  Treated water of either variety must adhere to the same set of rules.  Water coming from the faucet/fountain and water placed in those disposable bottles are indistinguishable.

But no matter how much we talk about this, many people still claim that bottled water “tastes better” than tap water.  So we wanted to find out: is that really true?

This was put to the test recently as part of RecycleMania’s “Water Week” (for those of you who don’t know: RecycleMania is an international competition between colleges to see which does the best of diverting waste), with a blind taste test.  Students were given two cups of water– one bottled, one tap– and asked which had tap water and how certain they were of their answer.


When asked their confidence in their answer on a scale of one to ten, most students marked that they were pretty certain.  But of those students, how many were actually correct?  Those marking a certainty of 9 or 10 were accurate only 33% of the time, and those who chose 6, 7, or 8 only managed a correct guess 55% of the time.

Overall, the guesses for which cup was tap water was almost perfectly split between the samples of tap and bottled water– because people couldn’t tell the difference.  Tap water and bottled water taste the same.


Author: Charlotte Humes


What’s Congress’ View on Bottled vs. Tap Water Quality?

Let’s learn a little bit about the US Government, shall we?

The United States Congress has an office in charge of audit, evaluation, and investigation, the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  Called “the congressional watchdog,” the GAO monitors how our government spends its money to ensure the appropriate use of taxpayer’s money.   (Bonus points if you’ve ever heard of the GAO before.  Unless you’re a poli-sci major, and then it doesn’t count.)

And why in the world would we interrupt our regularly scheduled Take Back the Tap blog posts for a quick lesson about Congress?  As we all just learned, the EPA and the FDA are in charge of ensuring the quality of our tap and bottled water, respectively. As government agencies, both are monitored by the GAO.

We already talked about the difference in power the two agencies hold, but… well, let’s be honest.  When I’m eating something, I don’t really care about which government agencies approved it or what legislation allowed them to do so– I care what’s in it.  In the case of bottled water, most people will say that they think it’s somehow cleaner than tap.  And, sure, they’re entitled to their opinion… but according to the GAO, they’re wrong.

The congressional watchdog commented on the bottled vs. tap divide in a truly scintillating eight page document (really, you should read it, your eyes won’t bleed at all: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-861T).  They determined that “FDA Safety and Consumer Protections are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water” and noted that most Americans, unfortunately, harbored some misconceptions about this fact.  So take it from the people in charge of the people in charge of maintaining the quality of tap and bottled water: bottled water isn’t healthier or safer or cleaner.  It just isn’t.

Recently, someone on campus put a fun display on a water fountain:


What’s amazing about the joke is that it’s a lot more accurate than most people even realize, and the GAO would agree.


PS: Sarcasm aside, the GAO document is actually surprisingly user-friendly and you should go read it.  It has a number of interesting statistics.


Author: Charlotte Humes

The Real Difference Between Bottled and Tap Water

When comparing tap and bottled water, some of the differences are obvious– tap water comes out of a faucet and bottled water comes out of a vending machine, bottled water is more expensive than tap, and you really need bottled water for those great stock photos of women struggling to drink water (why did that become a thing?).  But these differences are pretty shallow, and somehow I doubt that anyone is considering this when they make the choice to go for one type of water or the other.  So what’s the difference between tap and bottled water?

First and foremost, who’s in charge of regulation.  The Environmental Protection Agency monitors tap water, while bottled water falls into the domain of the Food and Drug Administration.  Most sources of water aren’t perfectly pure– I can go outside my dorm and scoop up a nice cup of Snow-mud Martini (shaken, not stirred), but if that was the quality of water provided by the public water systems or a bottled water company, that would be bad.  Instead, the EPA and FDA have each chosen standards which water must meet.  This limits the amount of each type of contaminant, controlling the content of everything from microorganisms to radionuclides.  However, since the FDA and EPA have chosen to maintain highly similar standards, the actual water content isn’t different (more on this later!).

This difference in authority does have a few manifestations.  Thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act, originally passed in 1974, the EPA is able to require regular testing by approved laboratories.  Public water systems are also forced to report any violations of the standards set within a certain time frame, or face the consequences.  This adds accountability, both to the public and the to EPA.  The FDA lacks a similar authority over bottled water companies.

Ever wonder where your tap water is coming from, or what it’s been through?  You can find out.  Public water systems are required to provide reports for consumers covering the source, treatment, and proof of compliance of their water.  In Rochester, for example, our tap water comes from the Hemlock and Canadice lakes, and the exact treatment it undergoes is on the City of Rochester website (link below).  No such transparency is required of bottled water companies.

So while the actual water may not differ from tap to bottle, bottled water’s lack of accountability, to either the public or their regulatory authority, is the real difference between them.



Author: Charlotte Humes

The Real Cost of Water


Mad props to Danny for this TBtT poster.

All of the items listed above are available on campus, but if you expand your search a little, don’t forget you can also buy yourself:

  • 28 boxes of Abraham Lincoln bandaids (enough to get you through 560 papercuts, but no good for injuries inflicted by John Wilkes Booth)
  • 8 dinosaur growth charts
  • 9 sets of Tardis/Dalek salt and pepper shakers
  • 238 oz. of canned Unicorn meat
  • 15 yodeling pickles

Why don’t we all have yodeling pickles yet?

Before we get caught up buying canned unicorn meat, it’s important to remember something else we could buy with that money: To provide clean water for life to one of the 780 million people without access, it costs an average of $25.  (This number is a little misleading, it’s between 7,000 and 30,000 dollars to build a well for a community, but then it provides clean water to lots of people at a cost of about $25 each.)  That means that the $171.48 that many Rochester students spend for the convenience of disposable water bottles could provide a lifetime of clean water for 6 people (almost 7).

There were, at the most recent counting, 5,837 undergraduate students at the University of Rochester.  If each of us diverted that $171.48, that would amount to $1,000,928.76, enough to provide clean water for 40,037 people.  That’s more than the population of Ithaca, New York (a mere 30,000 individuals), or the entire country of Liechtenstein.  Considering 3.4 million people die each year from lack of access to clean water, providing this water would save (statistically) 174 lives in the next year.

And that is the real cost of disposable water.






Author: Charlotte Humes

The History of Bottled Water: It’s “Special Water”

So now that we all know what it is, why is Team Green focusing on Take Back the Tap?  And why now?

Even though we’re only rolling out Take Back the Tap now, there are years of precedent for this program.  In fact, America’s been selling bottled water since before it was actually America (pre-Declaration of Independence), so we’re talking a lot of precedent here.  The original bottled water was surrounded by superstition– it came from a spa that advertised “special water” (those quotes are real, by the way, “special water”) for people to drink and bathe in.  It doesn’t take a chemistry major to know that water is water, but the mystical appeal got people to buy it, even though it was more expensive than other, equally clean and pure, water.  Soon water labeled as mineral or spring water (now with 100% more magical properties!) was being sold in America, and an industry was born.

source: http://lithiamineralwater.com/id43.htm

Unfortunately, it was superstition then and it’s superstition now; we’ll be talking about the regulations on bottled water vs. tap water in the coming days, as well as the taste of each.  We’ll also be talking about how much declining you spend every time you buy a water bottle and just why it costs that much, how water bottles are transported from continent to continent to end up in your backpack (and then a campus recycling bin, because I know you wouldn’t even think of throwing that thing away, now, would you?), and the environmental impact of all that plastic.

Team Green’s interest in water bottles doesn’t quite go back to 18th century America, but it does cover a couple of years.  Initially a move was made to ban the sale of disposable water bottles on campus, but discussion with students showed that this wasn’t the best choice at the time.  Dining Services listened to what students wanted and kept disposable water bottles on campus.  Now, Team Green is trying to do something even better– educate students on just what goes into that plastic bottle.  Hopefully instead of having fewer choices, students will make better choices with just as many options in place.



image: http://lithiamineralwater.com/id43.htm
Author: Charlotte Humes

Take Back the Tap 2014

For those of you on the University of Rochester campus, you’re about to see a lot of “Take Back the Tap” (consider yourself warned).  But what exactly is this super mysterious, highly complex initiative?  Take Back the Tap is a Team Green educational campaign, running throughout this semester, that aims to educate University of Rochester students about disposable water bottles.  Okay, so maybe it isn’t that mysterious.  Or complex.

Take Back the Tap (TBtT), in addition to educating students on disposable bottles, is meant to help students think about their choices as consumers.  Do I buy whatever products my parents bought, simply because I grew up with them?  Do I only buy whatever’s most convenient as I run from class to club meetings to work shifts?  Do I know the environmental or social impact of what I buy, and, more importantly, do I care?  They’re all good questions, and ones I unfortunately don’t ask myself nearly enough.

Before you point out that we’re biased: yes, we’re biased.  We are Team Green after all; that’s “green” as in “hippie environmentalists”, not “green” as in “light with a wavelength of approximately 530 nm”.  But TBtT is meant to present unbiased information, in the hopes that this will help students draw their own conclusions.  Each month, TBtT will handle a new topic, which will be explained with a video or an infographic, sometimes both.  If you disagree with anything presented, you’d like to make a counterpoint, or just want contribute to the discussion, then by all means tell us about it as a blog comment or via email, at URDiningTeamGreen@gmail.com .

And at some point there’s going to be crafts (ooh, aaah, crafts) so you should totally come check that out too.


tl;dr: check out the flyer, because we all know that’s more fun than reading.

1-20-14 what is TBtT edit purple


Author: Charlotte Humes

Happy New Year!

Hey, guys!

I’m excited for a new semester here at the good ol’ U of R, and I hope y’all are too.  I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I’m quite ready for 2014– none of my favorite NFL teams made it to the playoffs, every year I inherit more scary adult things to worry about (student loans, anyone?), and I’m going to accidentally write “2013” on my assignments until about mid-December.  Thankfully, unlike this slacker, Team Green is ready for the new year and we have a number of exciting things planned!

We’re currently making a video about composting, to help show students how UR handles food waste.  We’ll be hiring (exciting news, guys!!! updates will be posted here soon).  We’re formally launching our “Take Back the Tap” campaign to promote use of reusable water bottles.  Meatless Mondays are back next week, and we’re making good use of the feedback we received last semester (get pumped for more vegan desserts and made-on-the-spot vegetarian sushi).  We’re sponsoring the campus wide RecycleMania during the “Get Creative” week.   Local Foods Week will be the glorious celebration of delicious and sustainable produce that we all know and love.

We’ve certainly got a lot on our plate this semester.  (Get it?  Plate?  …Sorry, it wasn’t that funny.)

As always, this work is made possible by the support of Cam Schauf, the head of Dining and Auxiliary Services, the Marketing Manager Kevin Aubrey, the Campus Nutritionist Christina Patterson, and the many other wonderful chefs and dining workers (who also make sure we get to, you know, eat).  So remember to say thanks next time you’re in line to snag a burrito from the Pit or a made-to-order omelet at brunch!

Good luck with the new semester!


Author: Charlotte Humes

Organic & Fair Trade Farming: What do they really mean?

This term, I am taking Professor Rizzo’s “Environmental Economics” class. If you’re interested at all in how economics and the environment go together I suggest taking it. He gives out these ‘quizzes’ (which really are more like small exams) in which some of the questions require you to do research and read peer reviewed academic papers and present what you find.

The following question was on one of my quizzes:

So, what evidence is there that “Fair Trade” coffee is “better” for the environment? What evidence is there that “organic” farming practices are better for the environment and better for our health and nutrition?

It got me thinking about how some people may not know much about how fair trade and organic practice  relate to the environment. Fair trade is mostly associated with fair wages for farmers but there is a lot more to fair trade than just that. I thought I’d share what I found with all of you about the environmental side of fair trade and organic farming.

Before you read my response, I thought I’d lay out the differences between organic and conventional farming since in my response I assumed the reader knows the difference.

In order to be considered organic, farmers must follow a list of regulations laid out by the government. If any one is interested in all the specifics they can be found here; the document goes into every little detail you’d ever want to know about what you can and cannot do as an organic farmer. Here is how the USDA defines organic farming:

USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) definition, April 1995

  • “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.
  • “‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.
  • “Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.
  • “Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”

The biggest difference environmentally between conventional farming and organic is that conventional farming can use synthetically made pesticides and fertilizers. Conventional farms do follow some regulations – you obviously can not just dump DDT on your plants – but they are not as environmentally conscious as organic farms.

Below is my response:

According to the official Fair Trade guidelines for the USA in order to have the label of “Fair Trade” there is an environmental baseline standard that must be upheld. Some of these include limiting use of chemicals, sustainable and efficient use of water, trying to maintain biodiversity, and encouraging crop rotation.[1]  In an interview with coffee farmers they associated becoming a Fair Trade organization with learning more about becoming environmentally sustainable because the information was readily available.* They saw an improvement in their soil as well as their own personal health.[2]  There is not much scientific literature on the impacts of Fair Trade on the environment but because of the product guidelines in order to be considered Fair Trade the farm must have some sort of sustainable farming techniques. In general sustainable farming techniques have been found to benefit the environment.**

Organic farming has been proven to be better for the environment in a few regards.  One is the soil content is higher in nitrogen and organic material then compared to conventional farming. Another part of organic soil is that it has a higher retention of water and has advantages in drought conditions over traditional farming practices. There is also less soil erosion which prevents the runoff into local water resources. The Rodale Institute did a 22 year experiment comparing two different organic systems to a conventional practice. The results lean towards the organic systems having more benefits than the conventional systems. It was shown that “soil respiration was 50% higher in the organic animal system, compared with the conventional system.” Also the biodiversity in the soil was higher in the organic soils. [3]

In regards to organic food being healthier there has not been a definite consensus in scientific research. The main difference between organic and conventional farming nutrition is that organic produce has more nitrogen continent and a few other minerals. In a few cases more vitamin C was found in organic leafy vegetables as compared to traditional farming vegetables. However people who eat more organic products consume fewer pesticides than those who don’t. Even though it is believed washing conventional produce gets ride of the pesticides it has not been proven to do so. There has not been any connection that reducing pesticide consumption is good for a person’s health in the long run. [4]


*When farms become fair trade they are able to have more access to information about the environment through the fair trade program this in turn allows farmers to be more well informed about their impact on the environment.

**This is based off previous research I have done.

As you can see there are environmental benefits to organic and fair trade products as opposed to regular conventionally farming. There however is still much research that needs to be done on both organic and fair trade procedures. I mention towards the end of my quiz response about organic farming and health and how their is no conclusive data. The scientific literature on fair trade and its impact on the environment is also very scarce. In the next decade I hope to see research that address these issue of organic or fair trade being healthier for humans and the environment. 



[1] Fair Trade USA Environmental Standards: http://fairtradeusa.org/sites/all/files/wysiwyg/filemanager/Environmental_Standards_Fair_Trade_USA.pdf

[2]Assessing the Impact of Fair Trade Coffee: Towards an Integrative Framework

Karla Utting Journal of Business Ethics , Vol. 86, Supplement 1: Fair Trade (2009), pp. 127-149

[3] Pimentel, D., Hepperly, P., Hanson, J., Douds, D., & Seidel, R. (2005). Environmental, energetic, and economic comparisons of organic and conventional farming systems. Bioscience, 55(7), 573-582. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/216474355?accountid=13567

[4] Forman, J., & Silverstein, J. (2012). Organic foods: Health and environmental advantages and disadvantages. Pediatrics,130(5) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1142679621?accountid=13567


Author: Gabryella Pulsinelli