It’s a beautiful day. The sun is out and it’s a perfect, warm temperature outside. With a free afternoon ahead of me, I decide to open up my WeTap app and go hunting for water fountains. The map is empty for a 200 mile radius around me, which I found out last week when I opened the app for the first time since arriving in Arkansas, meaning that either there are absolutely no water fountains to be found or many water fountains and refilling stations remain unmarked in this area. The search becomes a game, like geocaching. It doesn’t take long on my walk around the historic downtown of Rogers to find a public drinking fountain–in fact, I only had to walk two blocks. I take a picture, log the quality, and voila! Now, there is one new fountain on the map.
WeTap is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving access to clean drinking water via public fountains while reducing dependence on single-use plastic bottles. The founders of the organization created an app for mobile devices that maps public drinking fountains around the United States. With an extensive map already in place, users are able to access the addresses of nearby fountains and map routes to them, making it easy to find free, clean, single-use plastic free water. The fountain profiles within the app include information about the water flow quality, whether there is a dog bowl available, and if there is a water bottle refill station present.
Although the greatest concentration of public water fountains are in cities, fountains exist all over the country. Users can also participate by adding fountains not yet included on the map.
The efforts of this app, and many like it, are to provide resources that make it easy for consumers to reduce their consumption of single-use plastics, a growing environmental problem.
Single use plastics include anything that is made of plastic and used only once before disposal or recycling. The lengthy list of single use items includes household staples such as plastic grocery bags, water bottles, carry-out food containers, straws, cups, utensils, plastic packaging, and plastic wrap.
One of the primary issues surrounding single-use plastics is that they commonly pollute the ocean. It is estimated that 32 percent of plastic packaging worldwide is not properly disposed of; the debris often ends up in our oceans, where much of it remains for thousands of years, slowly degrading into smaller and smaller pieces.
Plastic pollution has an immediate and lasting effect on wildlife; one million marine mammals are killed by marine debris each year. According to NOAA, “Debris ingestion may lead to loss of nutrition, internal injury, intestinal blockage, starvation, and even death.”
The fight against single-use plastics is happening worldwide in the form of public education, fines, and bans.
In 2017, Kenya banned plastic bags, with a $38,000 fine or four years in jail. The U.K. established bans across the country to limit plastic Microbead use in cosmetic and personal care products in January of 2018 and have estimated that the use of plastic bags dropped nearly 9 billion after taxes were introduced in 2015. Seattle is leading the way for cities across the U.S. with bans starting July 1 of this year for both single-use plastic utensils and straws.
With actions such as these, the momentum to limit single-use plastics is increasing around the globe.
Because of the many different plastics and variety of disposal streams, there isn’t one solution to the array of different issues surrounding plastic pollution around the globe. Luckily, there are many ways of approaching the problem, and tools such as WeTap hope to help lead the way.
Malea Saul is the 2018 Science Writing Fellow for Proteus. She received her degree in oceanography from the University of Washington last year and has since been exploring the intersection of science, communication, and education. She is especially interested in how film and storytelling can help transform how we see and investigate the many intricacies of our planet. Follow her on Twitter @SaulMalea.
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