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.

Augsburg Residence Halls COMPost COMPetition November 2016

Augsburg Residence Halls COMPost COMPetition 2016

On Nov 7th – 18th, each of the halls competed against the other communities within their hall to have the floor with the most non-food compostables. The grand prize of a Pizza Luce party was awarded to the floors in each individual hall that had the highest weight of compost per week. In addition to making bulletin boards with visual representations of what non-food items could be composted, RAs were also encouraged to reach out to their residents in creative ways to boost participation. Flyers taped to doors, face to face connections, and emails with residents helped bring the total weight of composted non-food items to 128.5lbs!

Compost Board Mortensen Hall "Don't be Grouchy Compost!"
Tiffany Widseth – Mortensen 1st floor
Compost Board Andreson Hall "Don't Talk Trash"
Sady Ly – Anderson 4th floor

Residence Life has an annual Safety and Sustainability project that they work towards every year. As the Environmental Stewardship Committee prepares by encouraging composting, we are working towards our sustainability goals for our residents. Originally we did not have a specific goal weight, because we did not know what was attainable. However, we felt that the foremost goal was to first educate residents about what non-food items could and should be composted.

Altogether the final weights of this two week competition showed a total 128.5 pounds of non-food items! These numbers are very exciting for future programs. If we were able to compost 64.25 pounds of non-food items per week for the 16 week academic semester – we would be preventing 1,028 pounds of waste from going to the landfill! If this were extended for the full academic year – we would be preventing 1.028 tons of waste from going to the landfills!!!  

 

The final weights and winners per hall can be seen below:

Urness 31.6 lbs 9th floor RA Samantha 10 lbs
Mortensen 45.8 lbs 12th floor RA Ben 13.9 lbs
Anderson 31.6 lbs 2nd floor house and apartments RA Sam 16.3 lbs
Luther 19.5 lbs 1st floor RA Erika 10 lbs
Total 128.5 pounds
Compost Board in Urness Hall: "Its Easy to be Green"
Elizabeth Whalen – Urness 3rd floor
Compost Board Anderson Hall 3rd Floor "Don't talk trash"
Destyn Land – Anderson 3rd floor
Compost Board Luther Hall - Composting Competition
Cheemoua Vang – Luther 3rd floor

 

ESLAN Project Completion and Summary

In January, we, The Environmental Student Leaders Action Network (ESLAN) team at Augsburg College, got the ball rolling on a behavior change project on campus. Our project has been to recycle personal care and oral care products via the TerraCycle company, an innovative and renowned company that recycles hard-to-recycle waste. We’re in April now and we have news to share with you!

We placed bins in each of the nine resident bathrooms of Urness Hall, where first-year students reside. Before starting to recycle, we had students take pre-surveys about their awareness and actions toward recycling, especially hard-to-recycle waste. Students also took post-surveys. Figure 1 illustrates the comparison between the pre- and post-surveys. The results show that students were recycling more after taking part in the TerraCycle project for two months.

Untitled     Untitled2

        (A)                                                                                                   (B)

  Figure 1. A) Pre-survey results for Urness Hall residents. B) Post-survey results for Urness Hall residents.

 

Students were incentivized to recycle by promising a pizza party for the residence floor that collected the most amount of products by weight. The students ended up collecting 28.06 lbs in items. After sorting (Figure 2 shows the team having fun sorting), we found that 18.25 lbs of the items could be recycled in traditional recycling bins. Therefore, 9.81 lbs of the items could be sent to TerraCycle; 7.11 lbs were from personal care and 2.7 lbs were from oral care.Untitled3                                                                Fig 2. The ESLAN team sorting out the recycling items.

 

There was also a community bin, a bin for all commuters and folks not living in Urness Hall, placed in the Christensen Center. The bin did not fare well. The bin was mistaken for a garbage bin and folks were not dropping off too many products. The lack of items could have been due to poor advertisement about its location when it was moved from one place in Christensen to a different location in the same building (moved after one week), as well as people feeling insecure about dropping off personal care products in a public space. As said before, we did not have much luck with the community bin.

        With all of our efforts, we estimate reaching 2,000 students. By reaching we mean that students had access to the project and details at the very least. We used various modes of communication. We posted images of people using the TerraCycle bins on Instagram. We tabled in the Christensen Center. We wrote a piece about our project for the Echo newspaper. We used every communication tool available to us to spread the word.

Moving forward, there is a lot for our team to think about. We are talking about forming a formal environmental student group on campus. We want to see if we can keep the TerraCycle program going and devise new strategies for creating success with the community bin. There is a lot floating around, so stay tuned. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please contact us at environmentalstewardship@augsburg.edu.

 

ESLAN Students Facilitate Behavior Change at Augsburg

     The University of Minnesota, Augsburg College, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and the North Hennepin Community College, recently joined forces to establish a pilot project known as the Environmental Student Leaders Action Network (ESLAN). The project is a behavior change project funded by a Hennepin County Green Partners grant.

     The Kick-off meeting was on Wednesday, October 14th, at the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant. At the event, folks discussed the structure of the project and brainstormed ideas for behavior change projects on their campus. Also, people had the opportunity to tour the restaurant’s aquaponics system; Minnesota’s first, in-restaurant aquaponics system, and dined in Northern-style Bangladeshi/Indian cuisine.

      Between October 25th and 27th, the ESLAN students attended the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference (AASHE), an event that equips higher education faculty, administrators, staff, and students to lead sustainable innovations.  One of the helpful sessions held at the event was the Behavioral Change in Sustainable Campus Actions session facilitated by Alexis Troschinetz, the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) Behavior Change and Metrics Coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension. The session informed students on how to organize and execute sustainable initiatives.

Now, each campus is working on their independent project. The Augsburg College team consists of four students (Elise Linna, Hanan Farah, Jennifer Kochaver, and Oscar Martinez), one graduate student (Amber Lewis), and two faculty (Emily Schilling and Christina Erickson). We are recycling personal care products inside bins founds in each residence bathroom floor of Urness Hall and by the Einstein’s bagel shop inside Christensen Center (images presented below in Figure 1).

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 12.17.28 AM                                       (a)                                                                          (b)

Figure 1. a) Recycling bin found in one of the Urness Hall floors. b) ESLAN Augsburg students standing next to the recycling bin found in Christensen Center. 

     

The items collected will be recycled through the TerraCycle company, an acclaimed upcycling and recycling company. The company is amazing, so check them out at www.terracycle.comThe team is delighted with the number of products being recycled in the bins thus far. In order to incentivize folks to continue doing a great job, we are rewarding the Urness Hall floor that recycles the most personal care products by Thursday, March 10, with a pizza party.

     We collected pre-surveys from the Urness residents two weeks ago and we will compare them to the post-surveys that we will collect in March. We will use the data from the surveys and our own personal experience to present our findings on March 28th to the rest of ESLAN institutional partner members.

     Up to now, this has been a wonderful opportunity to grow as agents of sustainable change. If you want to learn how to join us in this rewarding experience or have questions, please contact us by emailing us at environmentalstewardship@augsburg.edu. We will be posting more blogs, so also look out for those.

 

bag it: is your life too plastic?

 

bag-it-press-image

On Wednesday, April 22nd (Earth Day), the ESC will be hosting a film screening of the movie Bag ItThis documentary follows Jeb Berrier as he uncovers the mystery of plastic.  What started with a simple grocery trip and a goal to stop using plastic bags, turns into a quest to uncover what happens to plastic when it’s thrown out.  Where does it go?  How does it effect our environment and our health?  Don’t worry though – this isn’t a doom and gloom film.  It’s funny AND informative.  So if you can take a break from late night studying, come join us for some snacks and relaxing entertainment.

Thank you to the Environmental Studies Department for sponsoring this event!


Wednesday, April 22nd
Augsburg College
East Commons, Christensen Center
Screening begins at 8:30pm

 

Native American Film Series: Profit and Loss

SSGPLDVjacketF-211x300The Native American Film Series is still at it!  They’re showing another film that is sure to be inspiring and insightful.  Profit and Loss focuses on mining and oil industries and its effect on Native people across the globe.  Discussion to follow with Dr. Cecilia Martinez, Director of Research Programs for The Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy and Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network.


Tuesday, March 24th
Augsburg College
Sateren Auditorium, Music Hall, 715 22nd Ave South
Reception 6:15-6:45
Screening begins at 7:00
Discussion to follow

Help! We need movie suggestions!

Movie proposals needed for an outdoor movie night for Earth Day! Hopefully, the weather will cooperate. If you have a suggestion for an environmentally themed (and entertaining) movie, please let us know. Leave a comment or you can send an email to auggiesgogreen@augsburg.edu.

Fix-It Clinics

Now you can get broken household items fixed for free at a local Fix-It Clinic.  Repairable items might include:

  • small appliances
  • electronics
  • mobile devices
  • clothing
  • toys

Not only will you get your item fixed, but you can learn valuable repair skills along the way!  Most importantly, you’ll reduce waste AND save money.  No need to bring your own tools, unless you really want to.

Want to know why these clinics are so important and how it impacts the community?  MPR  has a great news story covering just that.

**If you happen to be a really handy person already and want to help out, volunteers are always needed.  More info on volunteering can be found on the Hennepin County website.