Members of the University community who buy bottled water instead of filling up at a drinking fountain may have been getting disapproving looks from a group of students recently.
Through a new petition, members of the Michigan Student Assembly’s Environmental Issues Commission are urging the University administration to ban the sale of bottled water from all vendors on campus. However, top University administrators, including University President Mary Sue Coleman, have said that such a move would most likely not be executed.
The petition proposes to eliminate bottled water from on-campus stores and vending machines and states that single-use bottled water is expensive, wasteful and harmful to the environment. Instead, the petition’s supporters want the University to install more water-filling stations, like the two that were installed in Mason Hall this year, to encourage the use of reusable water bottles.
Art & Design senior Lauren Sopher was inspired to write the petition by her work on the LSA Water Theme Semester Student Steering Committee. Sopher worked with Maggie Oliver, chair of MSA’s Environmental Issues Commission, to create and promote the online petition through MSA’s UPetition website.
Though the commission held events that raised awareness about bottled water in the past, Oliver said, this term seemed like a good time to launch the campaign because of the LSA Water Theme semester.
“LSA was doing the water-themed semester, so it’s going to be on people’s minds,” Oliver said.
Sopher said buying bottled water just doesn’t make sense.
“The thing with water bottles is water is a resource that should be available to everyone. It shouldn’t be a commodity,” Sopher said.
But, Tom Lauria, vice president of communications of the International Bottled Water Association, said water is a product that “has no special claim to being free.”
“As a commodity, water is in everything. It is ubiquitous,” Lauria said. “It is collected from private property like any other natural resource.”
At a fireside chat with students last month, Coleman said she was impressed with the level of environmental activism on campus, but said it was unlikely the administration would ever implement a ban of plastic water bottles.
“I think a more effective strategy is to convince people not to buy bottled water,” Coleman said, adding that University administrators make an effort to use reusable pitchers and cups instead of bottled water at their meetings.
“I encourage you to let your voices be heard,” Coleman said. “But just from a standpoint of what we can to do as an administration, to say we’re not going to sell things on campus, that’s more difficult for us. But, I certainly think you should advocate for more sustainable practices.”
For individuals who prefer bottled water because of its convenience, Oliver said, this reasoning isn’t worth its costs to the environment.
“I understand it could be frustrating having to take a few extra seconds to grab your water bottle and clean your water bottle,” Oliver said. “It’s hard to change your behavior. But I’m asking you, please make that change, not for me, but for our environment.”
However, Lauria said there is no reason to target bottled water as an environmental threat.
“It’s just easy to get natural spring water or purified water,” Lauria said. “It tastes better. Its mineral content gives it a brighter flavor. It is physically clearer when you put it up against the tap water. And I don’t understand why anyone would be questioning me consuming this, particularly when I have a recycling bin in the kitchen.”
The Environmental Issues Commission has advertised the bottled water petition on campus, in the residence halls, and by e-mailing professors and student groups to raise awareness of the issue.
Even if the commission doesn’t persuade the administration to ban the sale of bottled water on campus, Oliver said the petition will have succeeded in the most important goal in spreading the commission’s message.
“We have nearly 2,000 signatures right now, and that’s 2,000 people who said they are willing to change,” Oliver said. “If this act got people thinking, and got people to use reusable water bottles, and got people more environmentally aware, that’s what EIC is trying to do.”
— Daily News Editor Joseph Lichterman contributed to this report.