All Bottled Up

By Suzanne Santos

One hot summer day at the Austin Farmers’ Market, I spied a Bicycle Sport Shop reusable water bottle sitting next to the ice chest of bottled water we sell to customers. Not too far away, the rapidly-filling plastic bottle recycling bin on loan from Keep Austin Beautiful caught my eye.

More often than not, a copious amount of the water bottles we sell end up in trash cans rather than recycling bins—I’ve spent innumerable hours fishing them out. And the weekly treks to fetch the ice to cool them down aren’t the best use of resources either. We needed to get out of the wasteful bottled-water-selling business and into something environmentally friendly.

Enter the Austin Farmers’ Market Water Refilling Stations, sponsored by Wheatsville Co-op and KGSR-FM. Available at both the downtown and Triangle markets, each station has a supply of sturdy blue water bottles—union-made in the U.S.—that are HDPE #2 and non-leaching. The bottles sell for three bucks each, which includes free water fill-ups for the life of the bottle. Folks are also welcome to bring their own bottles to fill; the Austin Farmers’ Market simply asks that they pitch in a quarter or so to help cover the long-term costs of resources.

The water we use comes from our public water system, and is passed through a 100 percent carbon filter to remove contaminants and sweeten the water’s taste. We cool it down with reusable frozen packs instead of ice. Since the program’s inception, we’ve sold hundreds of the blue bottles, and the refill program seems well received by both customers and vendors.

Perhaps the motivation to get us out of the pre-bottled water business stems from an early exposure to conservation and resource appreciation—as a pre-teen, I spent one year with my grandma in the outskirts of Hot Springs, Arkansas, making weekly trips to the public fountain to fill 20 glass jugs for drinking water. Or maybe the motivation simply came from one sweat-soaked “aha” moment that steamy Saturday at the market.

I’d like to think it’s a combination of both. Grandma would be proud!