Efforts by Other Institutions to Reduce Bottled Water

In May 2017, Augsburg approved a new Policy on Bottled Water that aims to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions and support the provision of water as a human right and not a commodity. To support policy implementation as we #LoveLocalWater, Fall 2017 Environmental Connections (ENV 100) students created projects to address knowledge gaps, resource needs, and communications opportunities. Check back each week in January as we feature a blog series on different aspects of bottled water written by one of those project groups!

By Eric Bibelnieks (’21)

Augsburg is not alone in its quest to limit water bottle consumption. Many other institutions have been trying to reach the same goal, but with different methods and varying degrees of success. As we look at these other schools’ attempts, we can highlight the nuances of this issue in order to help us find a more a comprehensive solution to the water bottle issue.

Some universities have opted to take a more gradual route in promoting tap water usage. The University of Nevada introduced a price increase of five cents for the sale of plastic water bottles, with the purpose of raising funds for new filling stations across the campus. And according to the university, “over $1,400 has been accumulated, the first hydration station has been purchased and installed in the Dining Commons, and another will be installed soon.” This is less environmentally-conscious than completely phasing out plastic water bottles, but it does create funds for the university and incentivizes tap water usage two-fold, through the price increase and installation of new filling stations.

While an outright ban of plastic water bottles is preferable within the scope of sustainability, it does come with risks. A group at the University of Vermont did a study on the effect of banning water bottled water from its campus. Rather than look at increases in tap water usage, the group took a look at the other kinds of drinks that students were buying instead of the bottled water. And unfortunately, according to the study, “per capita shipments of bottles, calories, sugars, and added sugars increased significantly when bottled water was removed.” It’s important to take into account how the vending machines will be used if bottled water is removed from them, and the University of Vermont shows us that a water bottle ban alone may lead to some unintended consequences. People often buy water bottles out of convenience, and if they are not present, then might opt for something less healthy (albeit just as convenient). Tackling the water bottle problem must include discouraging the sale of unhealthy drinks.

However, the University of Washington in St. Louis has banned the sale of water bottles, while still managing to keep the sale of unhealthy drinks in check. In fact, according to an article in The Source (the University’s center for news), “soda fountain sales have also dropped during that timespan.” It’s important to note here that the university did not simply ban water bottles, but also implemented new filling stations and improved many of their current water fountains. But a more important thing to highlight is that the university also “supports a number of initiatives that promote good nutrition.” Augsburg has already implemented new filling stations, and is well on its way to getting rid of the sustainability nightmare that is plastic water bottles. However, we may need to take a page from the two aforementioned universities, consider the other impacts of removing bottled water, and address those accordingly. Promoting healthier beverages may be a step in the right direction.

There are many ways to deter students from purchasing plastic water bottles, but clearly banning them is the most impactful method, in terms of sustainability and the environment. Water bottle production and waste is very damaging, and banning them is only way to send that message. The ban comes with risks, of course, but it’s important to tackle one issue at a time. And with such an abundance of water here in Minnesota, there is no good reason to continue allowing the sale of plastic water bottles.

students host a water taste test
Education is essential to any successful sustainability initiative. Thanks ENV100 students for your contributions!

Social Issues With Bottled Water

In May 2017, Augsburg approved a new Policy on Bottled Water that aims to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions and support the provision of water as a human right and not a commodity. To support policy implementation as we #LoveLocalWater, Fall 2017 Environmental Connections (ENV 100) students created projects to address knowledge gaps, resource needs, and communications opportunities. Check back each week in January as we feature a blog series on different aspects of bottled water written by one of those project groups!

By Josie Slavik (’21)

When you think of clean drinking water, you may not think of it as a social issue. But the availability of clean drinking water is very much a social issue. Places all over the globe lack clean water, even places as close as Flint, Michigan. However, some places don’t even have the infrastructure to access clean water to begin with. There are areas where people have to walk miles to drink dirty water. This leads to disease and a life revolving around water. With areas where water is so difficult to come by, you wonder how it’s become such a widely sold product in other areas. The water bottle industry grows by 8-10% each year, which is much higher than many other beverages.  The US has access to many lakes and rivers to get our drinking water. However, many industries threaten the purity of the water. Oil fracking companies threaten surrounding bodies of water with chemicals that could largely pollute the water, and oil pipelines cross major aquifers and bodies of water, threatening leaks and contamination. As we saw with Standing Rock and other pipeline activism, people are willing to protect the water that sustains them by risking their lives.

water protectors with signs

 

For a country that mostly has readily accessible water right in our homes, we sure do buy a lot of bottled water. I and many others can walk down the hall and get as much clean water as we please from the tap, and yet we buy bottled water. Places that don’t have access to this clean drinking water should be the ones with access to the commodity that is bottled water. However, in light of convenience and revenue combined with lack of knowledge, many people who don’t need bottled water buy it anyways. Below is a chart of how much bottled water is consumed in different countries.

bottled water use in countries
Bottled Water Consumption in ten Countries, 1999 compared to 2004.
(click for image source)

 

In this chart it is shown that the US had the largest bottled water consumption. The lowest on the chart is India even though they themselves have water quality issues. In India 163 Million people lack access to safe water. One large water supply in India is the Ganges River. It is very polluted with garbage and waste. It makes the bottled water use seem very backwards. A place like the US, where 99% of people have access to clean, safe, cheap drinking water, is the largest consumer of it.

Studies suggest that Americans with income of $60,000 or more are 35% more likely to purchase bottled water. However, even though Black, Hispanic, and Asian household’ income are generally less than average, these groups are more likely to purchase bottled water”. This is an intriguing trend with complex ties to poverty, marketing, infrastructure, and background. As I’ve learned in school, some people have backgrounds and experiences that cause them to believe that bottled water is cleaner and tap isn’t to be trusted. Depending on where and how someone grew up, they may only trust the bottled water. When there is a lack in knowledge of one’s drinking water, it can be confusing.

In Minneapolis, we are lucky to have clean drinking water straight from our taps. This makes bottled water unnecessary. However, some people who aren’t used to having access to clean water or have false assumptions about tap water still rely upon it. Some people may be unaware that our drinking water is safe and just as clean as bottled water. But the lack of knowledge isn’t the only reason people buy bottled water. Many times it’s bought for its convenience. Many like to live without burden and to have faster lifestyles. Buying bottled water takes out the time of needing to fill reusable water bottles or remember to bring your own. You may not even be able to fill your bottle in certain places if water fountains aren’t available. Or you may not have your own bottle to bring. But what about when we get to larger scale bottled water use and sales outside of our homes? There are major events and buildings that still rely heavily on bottled water, such as for sporting events and concerts. The sports teams and venues may even rely on the revenue of these sales. Although they may rely on it’s sale, I feel it’s important to encourage people to bring reusable water bottles for these events. If venues would be heavily affected by reusable water bottle use, then they could turn to selling reusable water bottles and try to offer a place to fill them. This way they can still get their revenue while being environmentally conscious. The sale of reusable water bottles also gives convenience to those who may not have one yet, or have forgotten theirs.

With all this talk about bottled water it brings up the question of what happens to the bottles after they’re used. Do they get recycled? If people don’t recycle, what’s preventing them from doing so? It seems that around 32 percent of water bottles are currently recycled. This number, however, is rising gladly. But even though the water bottles are recycled, they’re generally not fully recycled. Many newly made water bottles are only partly made from recycled materials. The bottles that aren’t recycled end up in landfills or the environment. Many bottles are also exported to plastic manufacturers and turned into things like clothing, carpets and packaging. This means every bottle is using newly made plastic and not fully recycled plastic. In an Upworthy article I read there are many reasons as to why someone doesn’t recycle at all. The main reason people gave is that there isn’t a recycling bin easily accessible. If they don’t have a place to put the recyclables I can see how it could become difficult. Other reasons include forgetfulness and how time consuming it is. This falls under the convenience factor. People buy the plastics in thought of convenience and use the same excuse when asked about recycling it. I also noticed the lack of education come up as an excuse. If a person is unaware what they are allowed to recycle they are less likely to do so.

All of these trends bring up questions to think about in terms of who benefits from bottled water, who is harmed by its bottling and disposal, and how it’s more than just the plastic to be concerned about when thinking about bottled water.

Environmental Impacts of Bottled Water

In May 2017, Augsburg approved a new Policy on Bottled Water that aims to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions and support the provision of water as a human right and not a commodity. To support policy implementation as we #LoveLocalWater, Fall 2017 Environmental Connections (ENV 100) students created projects to address knowledge gaps, resource needs, and communications opportunities. Check back each week in January as we feature a blog series on different aspects of bottled water written by one of those project groups!

By Holly Kundel, ‘19

At a glance, bottled water seems convenient and harmless. However, when looking at the issue of bottled water from an environmental standpoint, it becomes quite complex. That is because you must consider where the plastic comes from to make the bottles, what happens to the plastic bottles after the water inside has been consumed, and where does the water actually come from? I will be focusing mostly on the impacts of the plastic and the water itself.

Personally, the first problem with bottled water that comes to my mind is the plastic bottles that they are sold in. Although most if not all plastic bottles are made of a plastic called PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is recyclable, most Americans don’t recycle them. In an NPR Podcast “War on Tap: America’s Obsession with Bottled Water” Peter Gleick stated “In the United States, probably 70 or 75 percent of the plastic water bottles that we buy and consume are never recycled. The industry likes to tell us that PET plastic is completely recyclable. And that’s true, but there’s a big difference between recyclable and recycled, and the truth is we’re bad at recycling. We don’t recycle most of the materials that we use that could be recycled. And the stuff that isn’t recycled, it goes to landfills. And when it goes to landfills, it’s buried, and it lasts forever, effectively forever.”

plastic recycle symbol
source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plastic-recyc-01.svg via google images

This statistic is shocking, but you may be saying, “Well I recycle all of mine, so what’s the problem?” Peter Gleick went on to explain that instead of taking recycled plastic bottles to make new bottles, America’s recycled plastic usually gets sent to China. Here it is used to make fabric, rugs and clothing. So this plastic is getting “down-cycled” instead of recycled. This means that in order to make more bottles, they need more crude oil, the source of raw material to create plastic. Oil extraction releases greenhouse gases that are a leading causing of climate change, and plastics production releases additional toxics into the environment. In addition to those harms, bottled water usually isn’t a local enterprise. According to the article “Life Cycle of a Plastic Water Bottle” in some cases of transporting bottled water, it can take more than a liter of gasoline per bottle. According to the article “How Much Energy Goes into Making a Bottle of Water” producing and transporting bottled water uses up to 2,000 times the energy required to produce and distribute tap water. It is also estimated that approximately one in four bottles of water crosses at least one international border in route to its final destination.

 

plastic bottles piled up
Plastic piles up. Source “Lifecycle of a Plastic Water Bottle”

In addition to the plastic from the bottles themselves being harmful to the environment, the water itself can cause harm. Bottled water, which you might recall isn’t all that special (see our previous post about the health and safety of bottled water), is taking water from places that are running dry. For example, there are a variety of companies that bottle water in California, a state that is terrorized by drought. Although many companies bottle water from municipal sources, some actually do bottle spring water. But the springs often can’t support the amount of water being taken from them, and at times, even dry up. An article called “‘Not one Drop’ of Polish Spring bottled water is from a Spring, Lawsuit claims”  quotes “the famous Poland Spring in Poland Spring, Maine, which defendant’s labels claim is a source of Poland Spring Water, ran dry nearly 50 years ago.” Even though bottled water companies are distributing drinking water, it can drain sources that local communities rely on.

california bottled water map
Image source: “Bottled Water Comes from the Most Drought-Ridden Places in the Country” Text: Drinking California Dry – These brands use water straight from drought-ridden California (map description in original article available by clicking image)

After learning about all of the ways that plastic water bottles negatively impact the environment, I’ve decided to stop buying them all together. It is important to understand that there are some communities, and certain circumstances where bottled water is necessary. Examples include areas impacted by natural disasters or towns where their tap water is unsafe. But here in the city of Minneapolis, where we are blessed with great tap water, it just isn’t logical to go with plastic bottles. It’s also much more economical to purchase one reusable water bottle, that you can fill an infinite number of times, than to continue to purchase plastic bottles. I believe that every individual has the ability to make a difference! Some of these environmental problems that we are facing seem too daunting to solve. But don’t let this fear stop you from doing what you can to help solve these problems! Everyone has the power to make a difference! By purchasing less plastic water bottles, we can limit the amount of plastic getting tossed into landfills and down-cycled. In addition to that, if less people are buying plastic water bottles, then less petroleum will need to be extracted from the ground to make new bottles. All of these benefits for our environment come from a choice you the consumer get to make. The facts are staggering, and bottled water in most circumstances doesn’t make sense the more you think about it. So the next time you want to quench your thirst, try water from your tap – the environment will thank you.

What’s the difference? Bottled vs Tap Water

In May 2017, Augsburg approved a new Policy on Bottled Water that aims to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions and support the provision of water as a human right and not a commodity. To support policy implementation as we #LoveLocalWater, Fall 2017 Environmental Connections (ENV 100) students created projects to address knowledge gaps, resource needs, and communications opportunities. Check back each week in January as we feature a blog series on different aspects of bottled water written by one of those project groups!

By Joshua Marose (’21)

Many people often wonder what the difference is between bottled water and tap water. It is often that they conclude that bottled water is the healthier and safer option, since the companies selling their product claim so after all. These companies give the idea that tap water is dirty and that their own bottled water is healthier and cleaner. But is it true that tap water is that unsafe?

Although many companies claim that their bottled water is from mystical springs, the truth is that often they aren’t so. Most companies get their water from normal ordinary wells and underground sources one might expect from tap water. In fact it is estimated that 25% of all bottled water is just repackaged tap water, often not even further tested.

water well pump water bottled

After the water is acquired it goes through the same regulations and testing as tap water. In fact the Food and Drug Association (FDA) adopts similar regulations for bottled water that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) already uses for tap water. So in essence both bottled water and tap water are of the same safety and quality, and tap water is usually tested and monitored for safety more often than bottled water. The EPA does not regulate private wells, so water from there must be privately tested, and water can become contaminated in old pipes connecting to buildings, as we’ve seen in Flint, Michigan. So while there could be cases where bottled water is safer for individuals to drink, the majority of people in the U.S. with access to tap water have a clean, safe source of water already at hand.

water treatment plant

If you live in a city with public water systems, drinking tap water may be economically beneficial to you compared to buying bottled water. The average cost of a gallon of water in a bottle is $1.22, which is 300,000% more than if you used a gallon of tap water. Because tap water is essentially the same quality, why should we pay extra for the same product?

 

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/tap-vs-bottled-water/faq-20058017

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/bottled/index.html

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/truth-about-tap

https://www.epa.gov/privatewells/about-private-water-wells

Images from:

http://www.clintonhealth.org/wells/

http://panamaadvisoryinternationalgroup.com/blog/news-from-panama/five-bids-to-build-water-treatment-plant/

http://dawnnamibia.com/water-bottling-plant

New Design for Augsburg Community Garden

As the spring semester and the opening of the new Hagfor’s Center for Science, Business, and Religion come closer and closer, the Augsburg community says goodbye to the layout of the community garden we have known and loved since 2007. With the design of the new building, a new campus Master Plan, and a growing need for gardening space to expand across campus, Augsburg has decided to update the design of this space so that it is a permanent fixture of the campus and visible commitment to our continual experiment with what it means to have public space on our campus. After working with designers from Oslund and Associates, gardeners, and campus stakeholders to lay out a design based on shared goals and principles, the new garden will have a more modern look while still making space for the creativity of gardeners.

greens growing in the garden students working in the garden

The biggest notable feature of the garden, will be that our new space will have 63 plots instead of the current 70. With newly planned accessible pathways and irrigation systems replacing the dirt trails that have gotten smaller and smaller over the years, some garden space needed be taken for better organization. The new plots will be easily distinguishable and farther separated from each other with pathways in between. Benches will now serve as both storage and gathering spaces for gardeners, Augsburg folks taking lunch breaks or doing homework, and neighbors looking for greenspace.

found objects inthe garden students saving bricks form the garden

Although not everyone is happy about the newly designed look, others are excited to have more structure in the garden. Some folks would like to keep it as the natural, organic (in many ways), creative space it has been since gardeners began taking ownership and making it their own. Some of the sustainability-minded folks  are disappointed that we have to say goodbye to reused objects, such as the bricks, poles, barrels, boards and random structures (e.g. crutches) that are both functional and artistic parts of many gardens. Although many things are leaving, many things will stay too – the tools, some of those found objects, plants, and seeds are staying and will be reused with the addition of new ones as well. Many other things from the old garden found new homes in neighbors’ gardens and yards, including our shed, which was graciously (and carefully!) transported to a brand new Cedar-Riverside garden at Timber Park (photo below) that the West Bank Community Development Corporation has been organizing with residents.

garden shed in new location garden under construction

The new garden is expected to open in spring 2018 and construction began last week. If you are unable to get a plot, fear not. The new plots are designed to be replicated across campus. Spaces where there is open green grass may soon be turned into more garden plots! Because the new space will have both raised beds and in-ground garden plots, gardeners are looking forward to partnering with A Backyard Farm this spring to learn new growing techniques and make the most of the growing space. You can support this effort on Give To The Max Day on Nov. 16! 

new garden design

-By Joshua Marose (’21), ESC Intern

 

Augsburg IT Recycles Styrofoam From New Computers

Each summer, as new computer shipments make their way to Augsburg, we’re left with packaging waste that can’t all be accepted by our own recycling hauler. To minimize the waste this year, Eric Strom took a load of #6 expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) over to DiversiFoam in Rockford, MN where it will be recycled and used in manufacturing construction-related polystyrene products.

In 2014, 14,320,000 tons of plastic containers and packaging (including polystyrene) was generated in the U.S. (see page 9 for more fun with numbers!). Only 14.8% of that waste was recycled. Polystyrene packaging and containers in particular had an even lower recycling rate with only 9.1% of all polystyrene in the waste stream being recycled.

Because of its lightweight structure and limited end-uses, polystyrene is notoriously difficult to recycle. As long as the packaging material is clean, white, and adhesive-free, DiviersiFoam is able to keep it out of landfills and put it back into their own products.

Thanks to Eric and our friends in IT for finding this local resource and helping reduce our dependence on landfills and make progress on our Environmental Action Plan!

Does your department collect a lot of polystyrene? Want to help create a campus-wide system for recycling it? Share your ideas or other sustainability stories with us at environmentalstewardship@augsburg.edu!