The Michigan Student Assembly recently made another effort to rid bottled water sales from campus. A resolution passed last week proposes to stop the sale of bottled water in University convenience stores, the Michigan League, the Michigan Union and Pierpont Commons, in addition to snack vendors at various campus events.
The petition, which is currently seeking student support, has the potential to bring positive change to campus. The University sold nearly 600,000 bottles of water in 2009, and according to the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute’s Campus Sustainability Integrated Assessment, the bottled water ban could prevent the emission of more than 80 tons of carbon dioxide and 40,000 gallons of water waste. The environmental benefits of the ban are clear, and the action by the University would likely inspire other institutions to follow suit, further reducing the environmental impact of bottled water.
Aside from being wasteful and energy inefficient, bottled water is an expensive alternative to tap water. In some cases, bottled water is less clean than available tap water. Additionally, the use of reusable water bottles is better for the environment and would also benefit students financially.
In spite of the clear advantages of the plan, there are several factors that impede the successful implementation of the proposal. The most significant problem is the issue of clean refill stations for reusable water bottles. For reusable water bottles to be easily refilled throughout campus, more drinking fountain attachments need to be installed. Currently, these attachments only exist on a few drinking fountains in University facilities and would not meet the demand that would exist in the absence of bottled water.
There’s also the concern that students and others on campus will turn to less healthy and unsustainable options to replace bottled water, such as bottled sodas and fruit juices. To make the ban successful the University would need to ensure that clean water was equally available at events without selling bottled water. University officials would also need to market the ban in a way that encourages students to make the easy, healthy choice of reusable water bottles and tap water.
While a ban on bottled water sales in University Housing and campus buildings where classes are held is feasible, banning it from all University events could have negative consequences. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone who attends special events on campus, for example sporting events and concerts, to bring their own reusable water bottles. Since bottles are not currently permitted in the Big House for football games, there needs to be an alternative for people seeking drinking water. Continuing the sale of bottled water at special events would be an appropriate exception to the otherwise campuswide ban.
It’s commendable that University officials and MSA are working toward making the campus a more sustainable environment with a smaller carbon footprint. The bottled water ban, if properly implemented, has the potential to further these efforts and establish the University as a leader in eco-friendly practices.