Take Back the Tap

Bottled water costs the campus community an estimated $640,000 per year, but the same volume of tap water would cost just $1,000...

Logo for the Take Back the Tap initiative at Cornell
leadership icon

Take Back the Tap is a Leadership goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Continue the Take Back the Tap outreach campaign to promote the use of reusable water bottles and containers, particularly at events and conferences, thereby reducing supply chain emissions and waste associated with bottled water.

Goal: Reduce bottled water consumption and associated costs, energy use, and GHG emissions through education and behavior change.

Between 350,000-400,000 single-serving bottles of water are sold on the Cornell campus annually, and more than 30,000 five-gallon carboy bottles of water are purchased for use in campus water coolers. Bottled water costs the campus community an estimated $640,000 per year, but the same volume of tap water would cost just $1,000. Cornell’s annual consumption of bottled water causes nearly 115,000 kg of CO2 emissions, or the equivalent of 265 barrels of oil. “Take Back the Tap” (TBTT) is an education/awareness campaign at Cornell to reduce bottled water consumption – and associated costs, energy use, and GHG emissions. The goal is that this behavior change will be sustained even as students graduate and leave Cornell. The TBTT student club currently has ten members who regularly attend meetings. The club’s main focus is changing the Cornell population’s attitudes and habits relating to bottled water and making tap water more appealing and convenient to the campus community. The club owns four 10-gallon water jugs that they loan out for informal events, such as races, and three 3-gallon water dispensers that are available for more formal events, such as graduation receptions.

The TBTT campaign is making a difference: bottled water sales at campus convenience stores and community centers have decreased by roughly 25%. Other recent achievements include:

  • TBTT education is a part of orientation.
  • All incoming students receive reusable bottles.
  • Cornell’s design standards for new buildings and renovations now include bottle fillers.
  • Many existing drinking fountains have been upgraded with bottle fillers.
  • An inventory of bottle filling stations has been posted online.
  • Inline water coolers, which are fed by Cornell water, are a sustainable, cost effective option to replace carboy style water coolers. More than 25 inline coolers have been installed to date.

Tips on how to host bottle-free events are included in the Sustainable Events Planning Guide. The Guide is also available through the Cornell Event Planning website. Bottled water sales at campus events have, however, not declined – emphasizing the need for increased outreach and education around green event planning. A newly formed ad hoc “green events team” is working to identify existing communications channels and processes through which university events are typically planned and to advocate for making events bottle-free.

Next Steps

  • Re-work reusable cooler rental system through Willard Straight Resource Center.
  • Compile ranked list of water fountains for replacement or repair with infrastructure project money.
  • Continue to pursue new departments to take the "SWAPP" pledge to eliminate their use of bottled water.


Develop strategies to increase student engagement and work with University Communications to move TBTT messages out to the Cornell community.

Learn more about how to reduce bottled water use...

  • Stop buying single-serving bottles; fill a reusable cup, bottle, or pitcher instead. All CU Dining locations have tap water available for free. All CU buildings have drinking fountains, many with convenient bottle fillers. Water bottles are available for purchase from The Cornell Store and many CU Dining locations. Click here to find the bottle filling station closest  to you.
  • Exchange your office’s 5-gallon carboy-style water cooler for one that is plumbed in to the building’s tap water supply. The CU Office for Procurement Services has awarded a contract to Mister Koffee to provide this service on campus. Floor and counter top units are available with filtration, heating, and cooling options starting at just $25/month (no additional installation or maintenance fees). Visit Cornell's Procurement Services website to find Mister Koffee on eShop.
  • Work with your caterer to host bottle free events. The CU Sustainable Events Planning Guide has checklists and contact information for staff and volunteers that can help you.

For more information, contact the Campus Sustainability Office or the student Take Back the Tap club.

Cornell's Tap Water is...


Cornell produces its own drinking water using Fall Creek as a source. The water is treated and regularly tested at the campus Water Filtration Plant. The US federal government requires far more rigorous and frequent safety testing and monitoring of tap water than bottled water. Cornell’s yearly water quality report is available at http://energyandsustainability.fs.cornell.edu/util/water/drinking/reports.cfm.


Bottled water costs the campus community an estimated $640,000 per year, but the same volume of tap water would cost just $1,000. If you don’t like the taste, buy a filter for your tap or a filtering bottle – it will quickly pay for itself.


It takes more than 1.5 million barrels of oil to meet America’s demand for bottled water each year (Earth Policy Institute). 80% of water bottles consumed in the US end up in a landfill rather than recycling (http://cdn.front.moveon.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/BW1.jpg).

Public water systems in the United States are facing challenges in providing affordable water for their citizens. When beverage companies take water from municipal or underground sources and charge exorbitant prices for it, they are profiting on water that local people need. Investment needs for buried drinking water
infrastructure total more than $1 trillion nationwide over the next 25 years (American Water Works Association), and depleted groundwater for agriculture, which uses 70 percent of water, could destabilize markets and contribute to price swings that send food costs soaring (U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency).

In response to these issues, New York State Executive Order No. 18 was issued by Governor David A. Paterson in May 2009. Executive Order No. 18 prohibits expenditures on bottled water using state funds. “Taxpayers have spent billions of dollars to ensure that we have clean drinking water supplies. If we are going to make such significant investments, we should reap the benefits and use that water.”  - New York Governor David A. Paterson