Banning the Bottle – It’s Not Just About The Bottles
In 2013, the University of Vermont banned the sale of water bottles on campus, prompted by a student-led campaign calling for reduced waste. Two years later, the results of the ban are in – and at first glance, they make the water bottle ban seem like a failure.
Rachel Johnson, a professor on campus, ran a study that shows the banning of single-use water bottles actually increased the total number of these bottles used on campus. From grist.com, “ ‘When we compared the spring of 2012 to the spring of 2013,’ Johnson told Vermont Public Radio’s Tyler Dobbs, ‘the number of bottles shipped per capita or per person to the UVM campus actually went up by 6 percent.’ ”
The takeaway? Reduced access to bottled water resulted in more bottles wasted. Yikes. But let’s take a closer look. When the university replaced the sale of bottled water, it installed filtered water stations instead. Students on campus ended up buying bottled drinks anyway – the kind filled with soda and juice. Any guesses why?
Bingo. Thirsty students grabbing something to drink on their way to class hit up the nearest vending machine for whatever liquid was available. Refillable water stations are cool and all, but what if you don’t have a bottle to fill?
In their haste to make a positive change for the environment – and banning single-use water bottles is most certainly a positive change – they overlooked the potential impact on campus-wide nutrition and health goals.
When you boil this decision down to its basis components, the university took away the healthiest beverage option – water – without providing an easy and well-promoted alternative – free, fresh, filtered water for filling up your own bottle.
Luckily, the fix is simple enough.
From grist.com, “ ‘We need to make the healthy choice the easy choice,’ said Johnson.” And she is absolutely right.
The university is on board. They’re doubling the amount of water stations on campus, and they’re providing biodegradable cups for students who forget their reusable water bottles.
Pair that with a rigorous campaign to pack your own bottle with you on your way to class, complete with providing campus maps with all filling stations marked, and we’ll be interested to see the results in another year.
Let’s all keep our eyes on the prize here – change is always difficult, and we have to start somewhere. Banning single-use bottles on campus is a positive first step. We just need to think through the actions that follow.