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Colleges, Bottled Water and the Environment: More Schools Ban Bottled Water

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Beer and liquor may be the beverages that are wreaking havoc on college campuses, but water is a drink that’s causing quite a stir at the moment. It’s a necessity of life, but somewhere along the line most Americans stopped trusting the water that comes out of their sinks.

Considered a miracle cure equivalent to snake oil in ancient times, bottled water has become so mainstream that the Columbia University Earth Institute reports Americans drink 21 gallons of bottled water per capita per year. Some eco-conscious colleges and universities across the country are starting to ban bottled water.

Bottled Water and the Environment

The United States is the largest consumer of bottled water in the world, using roughly one-fourth of all bottled water that’s sold. Bottled water companies claim it’s a healthier, calorie-free alternative to soda and juice, but scientific studies have found it to be no safer than tap water. Some studies have even found that certain brands of bottled water are tap water.

Not only that, the bottles themselves are filling our landfills at an alarming rate. It’s been estimated that about 75% of plastic water bottles get thrown away, which means that Americans throw away about half a billion bottles every week.

College Students Push for Bottled Water Ban on Campus

Environmental issues are so important to some college students that The Princeton Review now includes a list of the Greenest Colleges in the U.S. in its annual Best Colleges rankings, so it’s no surprise that some college students are pushing for bottled water bans on campus.

The Washington Post almost humorously explained that “some environmentally gung-ho students glare at those who choose to chug from disposable bottles rather than earthy-friendly reusable containers.” Macalester College senior Clair Pillsbury told The Star Tribune, “We don’t buy bottled water.”

Macalester College previously distributed bottled water bearing its school logo at alumni events, as did fellow Minnesota school The College of St. Benedict. Macalester and St. Benedict both recently implemented policies which ban the sale and purchase of plain bottled water on campus. According to CBS Minnesota, St. Benedict says it’s the first school in Minnesota and the ninth in the country to ban bottled water on campus.

“Most people jump right to the environment. More importantly, though, I think it’s the view that access to water is a basic human right. The institution doesn’t feel it’s right to profit from the sale of something that’s a basic human right,” Judy Purman, the director of sustainability at the College of St. Benedict, told The Star Tribune.

Problems with Bottle Bans

Bottled water bans aren’t as easy as they sound, due to some schools’ contracts with beverage companies, and the argument that removing “healthy” bottled water from vending machines will cause students to turn to sugar-laden sodas instead. College athletes and coaches are typically supplied with bottled water for practice and games.

Some colleges are installing “hydration stations” and reusable water bottle filling stations to make it easier for students to use their own bottles for tap water. The Star Tribune reports that St. Benedict has installed 31 hydration stations on its St. Joseph campus. Even though the hydration stations cost the school approximately $20,000, the college will make the money back in about a year after subtracting the cost of water coolers in offices and water bottles for events. “In the long run, we are going to save money,” Purman summarized.

Want to Help Ban Bottled Water at Your College?

Bottled water is a touchy subject for most people, but if you’re an eco-friendly student that wants to help ban bottled water at your college, you might want to consider joining an environmental club to meet with other like-minded students.

The Canadian organization Inside the Bottle.org, a collaborative effort by the Polaris Institute, Sierra Youth Coalition and the Canadian Federation of Students, offers the Building a Bottled Water Free Campus toolkit consisting of various resources and information on their website.

U.S. Colleges and Universities with Bottled Water Bans

Belmont University

College of St. Benedict

Macalester College

Oberlin College

Seattle University

University of Portland

University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point

SUNY Upstate Medical University

Washington University in St. Louis

*Source, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education via Revolve Water Filtration


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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