Those ‘Bottles Saved’ Counters on Water Filling Stations Are Way Off. Does It Matter?

The Green Ticker certainly pleases environmentally-minded folks who use it by making them feel good that they are keeping plastic out of landfills. But they aren’t the target market. Usually, the interior design firm or whoever runs facilities choose things like this. I wanted to know their motivation behind choosing one of these machines and not one by a competitor like Oasis. Is the Green Ticker (a term trademarked by Elkay) helping make the sale?

I mentioned my research to my husband, an architect at an interior design firm that does high-end hotels, and he emailed me from his office when he found out his team was choosing the Elkay bottle refill station for the gym of a Middle East hotel. I asked what the team thought about the Green Ticker. “Nothing,” he wrote back. “As long as it provides clean, drinkable water that fills up a water bottle, and senses when to stop and not spill water out and create a mess in the space, that is what we care about.”

But perhaps it’s a different calculation for a more civic-minded building? The next day, by luck or kismet, a high school buddy mentioned her old job was doing facilities planning for a 3-million-square-foot campus for the exact same government agency where Brandon works, albeit a different campus. Excited, I asked her whether she had any hand in choosing the Elkay filling machines, but she said the campus she worked on would never have water fountains that require so much maintenance.

You see, those Elkay bottle fill stations require that the filter be changed out periodically. The filter is a selling point for school systems that are worried about lead and other contaminants in their drinking water. But the filter can also slow the flow rate if it’s not changed, as sediment builds up inside it. The slower the flow rate gets, the more inaccurate the count of bottles saved.

“A lot of times those are calculated based on peak efficiency,” she explained. “Also, if they’re not changing the filters, gross. So if you see a slow-flowing water bottle refill station, you might want to think hard about using it.”

To continue my reporting, I returned to my yoga studio and snapped photographic evidence of the two bottle refill stations on either side of the hallway. One said 66,906 bottles saved. The other said 532,065.

I explained my quest to my yoga teacher, Lyss, and the other woman working the counter, Radhika. Lyss mused that the refill station at her Brooklyn circus school has never been changed, rendering it almost unusable. Energized, Radhika swung into action, pulling numbers for me on classroom capacity since 2016, when the studio opened, until today, and average utilization rates. If each person who took a class filled their water bottle instead of buying a water bottle, total bottles saved would be almost 709,000. OK, those numbers displayed on the Elkay machines were possible, I conceded.

But! Why the huge disparity between water fountains? Could the one next to the women’s locker room really get almost 10 times as much use as the one near the men’s room? On my next trip to the studio, I skulked in the hallway, surreptitiously recording the usage of the two water fountains. During the half-hour between classes, 19 people used the fountain next to the women’s room, and 18 used the one next to the men’s room.

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