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Colleges ban water bottles

Nick Bruno

Published: Monday, March 16, 2009

Updated: Monday, March 16, 2009 05:03

Universities across the country are trying to lead by example in becoming more environmentally friendly, and some have chosen to ban the sale of bottled water on their campuses in this spirit.

Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. has banned the sale of water bottles on its campus to reduce plastic usage and cut energy needed to recycle plastics, according to its Web site. Other universities considering the ban are Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. and Penn State, according to the WU Web site.

David Wahr, the interim director of auxiliary services, said UT doesn't have any plans to ban the sale of bottled water on its campuses; however, the issue has been discussed at both the Recycling Committee and Dining Services Committee meetings. 

One of the largest concerns with banning the sale of bottled water on campus is UT's contract with PepsiCo Inc. Wahr said PepsiCo would likely "take a strong stance against" a ban.

"I don't know if it's practical; I would think it's possible," he said. "We could negotiate with [PepsiCo] and say, ‘Look, we really want to do this.'"

Wahr said he has not yet had the chance to look into what other universities are doing about the sale of bottled water and how they're going about the ban.

"At this point, we haven't really approached [PepsiCo] about it nor have we made any decisions or [are] going forward," he said. "I can't rule it out, but we've just really barely started talking about it."

For those students concerned about the negative effects water bottles have on the environment, Wahr suggested they stop buying water bottles.

"You put your money where your mouth is, so to speak, and of course if the bottled water stops selling, well, guess what, they're not going to be as eager to put it on campus," he said. "Ultimately, companies such as Pepsi are in business, and they will meet product demand whichever way it goes, and if you're purely a capitalist, it's all about demand and supply."

With the recent announcements of UT's future plans for a larger focus on alternative energy and sustainability, Wahr said a ban on bottled water may help support the direction UT is taking to reduce its negative impact on the environment. Although he is personally not in favor of bans, he said he does support student involvement and people changing their own negative behaviors.

"This, to me — the recycling, the going green in general — is a perfect area that students could really take some leadership as well and show us the way," he said. "As I said with bottled water specifically, if you're really concerned about it, stop buying it. The market will take care of it."

While conversations about a ban on the sale of bottled water have only just begun at UT, Jeremy Sterling, recycling and moving supervisor at UT, said his department has noticed a steady increase in recycled materials.

"Students are realizing the impact that bottles have on the environment," he said.

Sterling said he is unsure if a ban on the sale of water bottles would work but felt it would be a good idea to reduce plastic usage.  

"Students will still bring bottles from outside onto campus," he said. 

Director of Environmental Services Diana Ganues stressed the importance of education rather than a complete ban. Plastics in landfills can have negative effects on the environment, and Ganues said if community members realize those effects, they may be more interested in recycling.

Sterling said UT does not profit from its recyclables; however, the more people who recycle, the less trash there is to be taken away by dump trucks. Ultimately, the fewer dump trucks needed results in the reduction of costs for UT, Sterling said.

President of the Society for Environmental Education Kristin Cavanagh, a senior double majoring in environmental science and communication, said while recycling is a good idea, it's not the perfect solution to the trash problem. Reducing usage by reusing heavier gauge plastic bottles would cut back on the energy needed to recycle, she said. If UT does decide to ban the sale of water bottles, Cavanagh said she will support it.

"It would be another small step to become responsible about the resources we're using," she said

Despite the environmental concerns of some students such as Cavanagh, Ernest Green, a senior majoring in theatre and communication, said a ban on the sale of water bottles at UT would not be the best choice for students.

"It would force people to bring in their own water bottles from home; not every student will care about the effort to reduce plastics," Green said.

Julie Archer, Aramark's resident district manager of dining services, said the decision to ban the sale of water bottles is strictly a UT administrative decision due to the university's contract with PepsiCo. Archer said other universities partnering with Aramark have adopted the ban. Those universities are mainly located in the Southwest, she added.

"It's not our decision because we work for the university, and that's the case for every school," Archer said. "If the student population said, ‘We don't want water bottles,' then we would certainly abide by that, but ultimately it's the school's decision."

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