Creating more sustainable campuses: Banning Water Bottles

Over the past few years, there has been a growing trend of universities banning the sale and purchase water bottles on campuses, in particular in North America, but also internationally.

In 2009, Concordia University* and McGill University launched TAPthirst chapters with the goal to eliminate bottled water from their campuses, and the University of Winnipeg became the first in Canada to end the purchase and sale of bottled water on campus after students initiated a referendum. With the highest voter turnout in years, three quarters of students voted to eliminate the sale of bottle water on campus.

In total, there are 14 Canadian Universities who have banned bottles on campus, all through student led, campus supported campaigns. Others have set out plans to go bottle free over the next couple of years, including Queen’s University,* which has outlined a detailed plan to go bottle free in 2012.

The University of Toronto announced on November 14, 2011 its efforts to stop the sale of bottled water on campus. At the beginning of this academic year, bottled water was no longer available at the majority of locations on campus with plans to phase out the rest over the next three years. Instead, students and faculty have access to new fountains and water refill stations. In order to raise awareness on campus, the school year started with OnTap, a university wide event that included a scavenger hunt where students had to follow clues to identify and locate all of the water fountains on campus.

This past March, on World Water Day, the University of Canberra was the first in Australia to ban the sale of water bottles on campus. As an alternative, they put in place water vending machines that refill a 600ML container with chilled water for $1 or sparkling water for $1.50, much cheaper than bottled water. They have also put in place a range of new refill stations on campus. The whole campaign, again initiated by students, started off as just one day aimed to raise awareness about bottled water.

In the US, 9 schools have banned the sale and purchase of plain bottled water on campus, but many more have started campaigns around the issue. To raise awareness, students at the University of Maryland* took plastic bottles out of trash cans around campus over a two hour period and used them to construct a five foot tall statue. Students also organized a Tap Water Challenge where students, faculty and staff were invited to take a blind taste test to see if they could tell the difference between bottled and tap water.

As part of the I ♡ Tap Water campaign at UC Berkeley, students tested more than 450 water fountains on campus to ensure water quality. Through various public awareness activities, they were able to reduce plastic water bottles on campus by 25%. American University* is upgrading 100 water fountains to include a bottle-friendly faucet. Brown University took their campaign online with their Beyond the Bottle campaign led by student group emPOWER.

In the UK, Leeds University* was the first to ban in 2009 following a student referendum that won 2/3 of the votes. There was an anti-campaign at the time to keep plastic bottles on campus but it lost the vote. This past October, a discussion started online about whether the ban should be removed, but students rejected the idea.

A lot of schools, rather than banning water bottles outright, are mounting educational campaigns to inspire a voluntarily increase in the use of tap water on campus and also increase the amount of recycling of plastic water bottles. UNSW* in Australia put in place Envirobank reverse vending machines in 2010, which allow students and staff to insert empty PET plastic bottles in exchange for ‘Crunch Credits’ or instant win coupons and prizes.

* PRME Signatory

Have you or are you thinking of banning water bottles on campus? Do you think banning bottled water is a good thing or not? Please share your experiences in the comments area below.

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