During the 2007-2008 school year, K’s Environmental Organization (EnvOrg) waged a battle on bottled water. EnvOrg’s aimed to raise awareness about how water is a basic human right which Americans are currently using in a unsustainable and irresponsible manner at the cost to large portions of the rest of the world. We all participate in the exacerbation of this issue by being consumers of America’s bottled water industry.
As part of the College’s climate commitment initiative and effort to reduce the consumption of bottled water on campus, we encourage guests to bring reusable bottles to fill at the various water stations that will be available around the Quad.
What’s wrong with bottled water?
Besides the sheer number of plastic bottles produced each year, the energy required to manufacture and transport these bottles to market severely drains limited fossil fuels. Approximately 1.5 million barrels of oil—enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year—are used to make plastic water bottles, while transporting these bottles burns even more oil. Nearly 90 percent of water bottles are not recycled, and wind up in landfills where it takes thousands of years for the plastic to decompose. Not to mention the fact that federal regulations that govern bottled water only require it to be as good as tap water, not better. There are no assurances, regulations or requirements that bottled water be any higher in quality than tap water According to some recent studies, it may often be of lower quality. The fact is that people pay from $1 to $4 a gallon for the perception of higher quality, when in fact, the quality of battled water is at best "unknown"! Over 90% of the cost of bottled water is in the bottle, lid, and label.
What actions have been taken?
EnvOrg spread awareness about bottled water with a three-part publicity campaign. First members hung empty bottles with facts about bottled water around campus. Next, the organization "tabled" in the cafeteria, selling reusable water bottles, and getting students to sign pledges to reduce or eliminate bottled water consumption as part of the Think Outside the Bottle Campaign (http://www.thinkoutsidethebottle.org/). Finally, the organization teamed up with Campus Energy Group and the Sustainability and Music Houses to throw a Bottled Water Jam on January 17th. The event was co-organized by Jenna Hertz and Aubrey Parker and featured Jim Olson, the lawyer from the famed Ice Mountain court case, and beloved earthwork bands. At the jam, two petitions were passed around, one to ban bottled water on campus and one to Congress urging them to renew the clean water act. The event was extremely successful and included over 200 students and community members. The petition to ban bottled water eventually held more than 350 signatures and spurred the creation of the bottled water task force to identify all events on campus during which bottled water is distributed and provide alternatives for proper dispersal of water at major events, (e.g. graduation and opening convocation) that will address public health concerns and will not disrupt the particular program.
In addition to spreading awareness we cut down on bottled water usage in the following areas:
New Student Orientation - Zaide Pixley will encourage the new students to bring their own refillable water bottles to the program, and there will be jugs of water on hand at events. Contemplating mailing all new students reusable water bottles.
Commencement - Bottled water will no longer be placed under all of the chairs, everyone will be encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles with them. Large jugs of water will be available for the public to use. Cups of some sort will be made available.
Student events Cindy is looking into purchasing special jugs that are only used for water to eliminate odd tastes left behind by non-water beverages.
Student Café When the Café (Quadstop/snack bar) opens, students will be able to purchase a variety of bottled drinks, including water. Mark informed the group that in the past, 15-20% of the sales in the Quadstop was bottled water. Not offering bottled water, he anticipates, will be a serious issue. Selling reusable water bottles (such as Nalgene) is an option to consider, but from experience, Mark says these do not sell very well. The task force did not press for a resolution on this issue.
Vending machines Current vending machines sell bottled water. The committee was unsure if the contract with the vending machine supplier requires the College to offer bottled water in the machines. EnvOrg is posting signs on vending machines.
10 filtered water taps will be installed in the residence halls in the near future. He worked with the students to decide where in the residence halls these filtered taps would be placed.
Admission Office - Bottled water with the K logo is handed out to visiting families when requested. The office has a large supply of the water that should last until July. Once the supply is depleted, a water dispenser and paper cups will be placed in the office’s waiting room. This will eliminate the disposable plastic, but the jugs of water are still a delivered product to the campus.
Bookstore This year the bookstore began selling bottled water with the K logo. Debbie Roberts, Director of the bookstore, met with Eric Staab and three representatives of EnvOrg in the winter term to discuss bottled water. At that meeting, Debbie agreed to discontinue the purchasing of bottled water, but will deplete the current supply in the bookstore. She also said that the bookstore will remove the water jug dispenser and will look into a filter for the water taps in the store.