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MMA Innovation Award winner, From The Beacon, February 2024
Capitalizing on a public education campaign and the town’s award-winning drinking water, Brewster installed water-bottle refilling stations around town that have drastically reduced the public’s reliance on plastic water bottles.
Since 2020, Brewster has installed 18 refilling stations in public buildings and at several outdoor properties, including parks and recreation facilities. Town officials said the water stations address several problems simultaneously: reducing the number of single-use plastic bottles in the environment, reducing town recycling costs, saving money for residents who don’t need to buy bottled water, and encouraging healthy hydration habits.
“People care about the environment. People care about the water. People want to save money,” said Select Board Vice Chair Mary Chaffee. “And every single plastic bottle right now — the way the recycling markets are — we’re paying to get rid of those.”
The idea for the hydration stations, which include both water bubblers and bottle-refilling features, came to Chaffee when she and her husband made frequent use of a water-refilling station during a 2017 trip to Italy. The idea made even more sense, she said, when Brewster subsequently enacted a ban on the sale of single-use plastic water bottles.
“You can’t take something away from people without providing an alternative,” Chafee said. “So it was really clear that one approach to this would be, yes, we need to stop using single-use plastic bottles, but we need to do more.”
Brewster benefitted from having tap water that people want to drink. The town has won numerous awards for its drinking-water quality, including a 2023 Public Water Systems Award from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. In 2019, Brewster launched a public education program, “Drink Brewster Tap,” which featured local notable residents endorsing Brewster’s tap water just before the town was about to start installing the hydration stations.
Officials researched similar projects, including one by a nonprofit in Falmouth, and investigated whether the presence of the hydration stations could change people’s water-use habits. The town conducted a pilot project, funded by the Water Commission, and developed criteria for locations, including that sites be town-owned, get sufficient visitors, serve multiple populations, offer an opportunity to reduce single-use plastic purchases on site, have sufficient parking, be close to town water infrastructure, and be easily accessible to the public.
Town officials said each indoor hydration station costs about $3,600 (purchase and installation), and the outdoor version — which needs to be sturdier — costs about $10,000. Water Department employees installed the units, which helped defray costs. Last May, Town Meeting approved $25,000 for the installation of additional stations during the current fiscal year. Before that, the Water Commission had heavily funded the project, with help from town departments and community groups.
“We all kind of chipped in,” said Town Manager Peter Lombardi. “All of the departments really saw the value in the overall program and in adding these stations at their different facilities, and they made it come together even though we didn’t necessarily always have a direct funding source to do it.”
The town is already seeing benefits. The station at Town Hall alone has saved the equivalent of 25,000 single-use bottles. As a result, the town is saving on plastic recycling costs, and people are drinking less-expensive water, since tap water costs Brewster about a half cent per gallon, compared to nearly $10 a gallon for some retail bottled water brands.
For more information about Brewster’s municipal hydration stations, please contact Town Manager Peter Lombardi at email@example.com.