The University of Vermont is banning the sale of bottled water on its campus in response to calls to reduce plastic waste and to save students money. Students will be encouraged to use stainless steel water bottles (which can be bought for $1 from a student environmental group) and fill them from taps installed at converted drinking fountains around the campus.
A student group, the Vermont Student Environmental Program, led the calls for the ban, which makes quite a bit of sense from both an environmental and an economic perspective. The dollar spent on a stainless steel bottle is often less than the cost of a bottle of water (at the college where I teach, at least).
Not surprisingly, the International Bottled Water Association is not in favor of such bans on the grounds that “they do not necessarily lead to greater consumption of tap water and may instead lead to more drinking of sugary sodas” and that they “destroy jobs.” Plus, says the association, rates for recycling are improving.
Also less than happy about the University of Vermont’s new policy will be Coca-Cola, which had the exclusive “pouring rights” to the campus and indeed sold about 1.1 billion bottles of beverages there annually. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, by not renewing its ten-year-contract with Coca-Cola (which has expired), the University of Vermont will be giving up about $500,000 each year in financial aid and support for athletic and other programs.
When you consider the monetary savings and the benefits to the environment, the loss of those funds (which the University has said it will seek to make up via new contracts) seems like a win in the long run. In 2009, Americans spent $10.6 billion on bottled water. But only 25 percent of water bottles are recycled, says Reuters citing figures from Food and Water Watch. Rare are the times that my son and I have walked through one of the playgrounds and athletic fields in our town without spying a grimy, half-flattened plastic bottle in the grass.
In the past three years, a number of other US schools — University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, University of Portland and Washington University in St. Louis — have instituted bans on the sale of bottled water. The University of Vermont, with 11,5000 students, is the largest yet to do so. The ban will take effect in just under a year, in January of 2013.
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