A Bottle-Free Norm

As I learn more and more about my new campus, something interesting piqued my attention: a sign above a water fountain. I mean, nothing special or out of the ordinary, but it’s proclamation got me thinking.

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Bishop’s University is the first university in Quebec to ban the sale of plastic water bottles. Not as fancy as some water fountains I’ve seen, but it does offer a convenient spout to refill reusable bottles. The signs, beyond the statement “Think Global, Drink Local!” cite the achievement from an on-campus effort called the Sustainable Development Action Group. Not only did the group implement the bottle-free campaign in 2010, but they also only sell fair trade coffee on campus. Both are praiseworthy, especially knowing the number of recycling bins around campus and even the compost bin in dining areas so food scraps aren’t wasted.

I was surprised to also find out that $2.50 is taken from student fees each semester to help fund sustainability projects. This money, besides all of the promotional efforts for the plastic water bottle campaign, has funded a bicycle rental program and an area-wide ban of plastic bags. As stated on the group’s website, “The bookstore on campus and Java Café have declared themselves plastic bag free. After conducting an audit, it’s estimated that the businesses in Lennoxville provide more than 50,000 bags per week. Thus the ban could remove 2.6 million bags a year, and 78 million bags in one generation (30 years).”

With all these achievements aside, I’m today focusing on the removal of plastic water bottles. This step is one that simply makes sense, especially on college campuses. Whether you live in the States or Canada, chances are that your community is pretty good at water purification. If you’re not satisfied with local tap water, that turns into a conversation with city officials. Simply put, free access to clean water is a basic human right, not a product to buy and sell.

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And if you’re concerned about the quality of water you’re drinking, drinking plastic bottled water won’t help. According to the University of Toronto, tap water is regulated provincially and municipally. This means they test our tap water regularly and closely monitor its quality. Bottled water is considered a food and goes by those standards. The same mentality applies in the States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protects tap water, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protects bottled water. If you weren’t aware, the FDA is pretty lenient on its regulations. The EPA requires multiple daily tests for bacteria in tap water and makes results available to the public. The FDA only requires weekly testing and does not share its findings with the EPA or the public. And, as with many federal entities, it’s heavily influenced by lobbyists’ interests and not necessarily the well-being of consumers. (Side note, if you ever wondered why highly processed foods tend to be much less expensive than fresher, more nutritious foods…that’s a big reason why.)

That’s not even the funny part about people preferring bottled water over tap water. According to Ban the Bottle, a widespread campaign devoted to this cause, 24 percent of bottled water sold is either Pepsi’s Aquafina (13 percent of the market) or Coke’s Dasani (11 percent of the market). Both brands are bottled, purified municipal water. There is literally no difference. If you don’t like the taste of tap water, buy an at-home filter or pitcher. Even water bottles themselves have filters built in. Problem solved. Simple as that.

Let’s not forget the damage plastic water bottles have on the environment, most of these plastics not fully recyclable, wasting away in landfills for far too long. Last year, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles, but only recycled 38. Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year.

As we fight the battle against our heavy reliance on plastic, water bottles are an obvious place to start. Not only does “banning the bottle” benefit the environment through conserved energy and less waste, but we as consumers save money. We put our dollars toward the efforts the last longer than one usage. Rather than buying plastic water bottles, let’s work toward improving our water sources and purification even more. Let’s ensure places like Flint, Michigan, who haven’t had lead-free water for years, can have the same rights as us. Let’s expand our horizons toward other places and people that struggle finding clean water.

One choice can make a resounding impact for generations. We continue innovating the world around us, and yet we still use materials and have habits that are nothing but expensive and wasteful. We forget that water is even a problem when we don’t think about where and when our next drink of clean water is.

Although I never liked bottled water to begin with, I didn’t even notice the difference until I read the sign above the water fountain. It plays no significant role in changing how we live our daily lives, and yet its effects on the community and planet are astounding. Think if we all made such a proclamation? That important decision would undoubtedly make a difference and quench our thirst.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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