Should Universities Ban Bottled Water?
The University of Vermont is set to join a small but determined group of universities by moving to end the sale of bottled water on campus as of January 2013. Ending a ten year contract with Coca-Cola has allowed for increased options as the university attempts to reduce their environmental impact by cutting down on bottled water and to provide healthier options to students. As in most of these situations, students pushed for change collecting well over a thousand signatures in favor of a “sustainable beverage system” and citing issues such as the oil required to make plastic bottles, the water that went to waste in the process (about three liters of water are required to bottle just one), the lack of recycling that takes placed with disposed bottles, that the bottled water is often sourced from tap water, and that their particular water supply was one of the cleanest in the country. Although the university imposed change has yet to take place, students have already succeeded in reducing sales from 362,000 to 235,000 bottles per year between 2007 and 2010.
Other universities in Canada and the United States to have banned plastic bottled water include Belmont University, Oberlin College, Seattle University, University of Ottawa, University of Portland, University of Wisconsin (Stevens Point), Upstate Medical University, and Washington University in St. Louis. Others including, but not limited to, New York University and Stanford University have banned plastic bottles from their dining halls. Finally there are numerous student led efforts to ban bottled water at places such as Brown University, Cornell University, and Pennsylvania State University, though these have yet to become official.
Since bottled water is often cited as a convenience, places such as the University of Canberra in Australia have installed water vending machines that charge students to refill containers, though the prices are lower than they would have been for bottled water. Others have installed something called hydration stations, which are essentially drinking fountains with an extra spigot making it faster and easier to refill bottles. It has yet to be seen whether these changes will end up increasing the purchases of soft drinks as some claim it will.
As with most changes not everyone is happy about these developments, at the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, following the ban the Minnesota College Republicans handed out plastic water bottles to students claiming that the new policy deprived students of the right to choose. Other criticisms include claims that people will tend to choose less healthy options such as soft drinks, that bottled water is simply convenient and even hydration stations or similar options will not be at the same level, that students may rightly be wary of unclean tap water especially at older schools, and as mentioned earlier that ultimately consumers should be able to decide for themselves what they buy.
Others assert that there is a surprisingly large amount of misinformation circling that unfairly portrays the detriments of bottled water. The proponents of this include Chris Hogan, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association. An editorial by John B. Challinor II, Nestle Waters Canada’s director of corporate affairs, elaborates on this point of view claiming that bottles are made in a more environmentally friendly way than is usually portrayed and that a ban would be largely irrelevant since bottled water is a competitor of other bottled beverages, not tap water. Beverage companies such as Coca-Cola also have come out against these bans claiming, among other things, that people tend to hugely overestimate the scale of bottled water’s effect on landfills. John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, points out that “Consumers have spoken” and they “like bottled water and that will remain for the foreseeable future”.
On the other side of the issue, are the groups pushing for change arguing that a ban on bottled water will help protect the environment while reducing campus beverage costs and improving the universities’ images as they “go green”. Other points made are that for the most part bottled water is not really better for you than tap water and the idea that as a “basic human right” water is not something they should have to pay for. Therefore, despite the criticisms they encounter, movements to ban bottled water have been gaining traction in various universities across the country as well as in other parts of the world.