Quenching Tahoe’s thirst with reusable cups

Water refill station at Diamond Peak. | Courtesy Madonna Dunbar

Three years ago, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows made the decision to eliminate the sale of single-use plastic water bottles. It launched Drink Mountain Tap and installed 20 free refill stations around both ski areas and started selling reusable water bottles guests could use to fill up on water.

When the resorts’ leaders realized that the U.S. blows through 17 million gallons of oil to produce single-use, plastic, water bottles, of which 40 million end up in our oceans and landfills, they couldn’t contribute to the waste any longer. It costs less than a penny to get water out of the tap; so Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows became the first ski resort in the nation to take a stand against single-use water bottles.

“Fill a single-use, plastic bottle three times and dump it out. That is how much water is wasted to produce a single plastic bottle,” says Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows public relations coordinator Alex Spychalsky, adding that the initiative has led to eliminating at least 355,694 plastic water bottles from its waste stream over the last three seasons.

Many Tahoe Sierra businesses have also followed suit by selling reusable water bottles and offering easy, convenient and free refill water stations. Additionally, some local cafes give discounts to patrons with their own mugs for coffee or they offer free water jugs the public can use. Simple Bliss in South Lake Tahoe is the only vegan café at the lake. The plant-based options on the menu necessitates the use of a lot less water and the water jugs are infused with cinnamon sticks and cardamom.

Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema in Tahoe City discounts a dollar off draft beers to patrons with their own tumbler or stainless-steel pint cup. Inclined Burgers and Brews in Incline Village, Nev. — which has some great burgers, by the way — sells reusable cups for $25, which come with a free beer at the time of purchase and a dollar off drafts after that. Plus, 10 percent of the cup sales are donated to Waves for Water.

There are apps that help visitors and guests find the closest places to fill up, such as Tap app. On its Web site, findtap.com, an ongoing ticker shows the staggering number of plastic bottles being used per second worldwide. The smartphone app directs users to free water-refilling stations closest to them along with hours of operation, directions and mileage to get there and water types (chilled, filtered, sparkling or flavored) and refill types offered (drinking fountain, counter services, water cooler, bottle refill).

At least 23 businesses in the Tahoe Sierra offer complimentary water-refilling stations; businesses in Reno and Carson City also show up on the app. In South Lake Tahoe, I was directed to Jack in the Box, My Sugar Pine Bakery and Chicken in a Barrel BBQ — all offering complimentary refills.

“Some people aren’t comfortable just going into a business and asking for water, so the app provides an easy way for them to do that,” says Tahoe Water Suppliers Association executive director Madonna Dunbar. She encourages local businesses to join the network, especially those that support Drink Tahoe Tap.

“The easiest way for businesses to register [their water stations] is to sign up through findtap.com. Our tap water is some of the best water in the world, so you can pretty much get away with drinking it [from the tap] anywhere around here,” she says.

As a local and someone who cares about our environment, I have used my reusable tumblers so many times that I feel guilty every time I forget it. Maybe it’s because I pick up plastic out of Lake Tahoe every time I go paddleboarding or because I like that my Brad Henry ceramic mug tends to be a conversation piece or because every time a barista says, “Thank you for bringing your own cup,” I get a sense of satisfaction knowing that one less plastic lid and wax-lined paper cup will end up in our landfill or Lake Tahoe. | findtap.com