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.