Bottled Water Sales Halt at Drake University
Plastic single-serving bottles filled with water will no longer be sold in most places on Drake University’s campus next fall after a successful student-led campaign to ban the convenient and popular items.
When classes begin in August, the private university in Des Moines may have the tightest restriction on bottled water sales of any college in the state, students said. Dozens of colleges nationwide in recent years have pursued similar bans.
To ease the transition, every new student will receive a reusable bottle that can be filled at bottle filling stations, customized fountains located around campus that make it easy to fill tall bottles.
Students worked for months to earn the support of students, faculty and administrators by highlighting the amount of water and energy needed to produce and ship clean drinking water, a product that pours from the tap at a fraction of the cost.
“It seems like such a waste,” said Amy Duong, 21, a junior, who helped organize the campaign. “Why would you spend that much money when tap water (is so cheap)?”
Some students, though, are skeptical of the plan because of the convenience of disposable single-serving water bottles. The bottled water industry has used a similar message — their product offers easy access to a safe, clean and healthy product — to push back against rising opposition on college campuses.
Bottled water sales grew in 2012, continuing a trend of steady growth in recent years, according to industry figures. This is despite efforts on college campuses nationwide to reduce bottled water use because of environmental concerns.
Drake students point to plastic bottled water recycling rates of 15 percent, a figure touted by environmental groups. Industry officials, though, claim recycling has doubled to nearly 40 percent since 2003, according to the International Bottled Water Association in Alexandria, Va.
In the U.S. and Canada, at least 35 universities or colleges have banned or restricted the sale of bottled water, and another 10 have sought to restrict their use, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in Denver, CO.
Drake University students, who conducted their own survey, said more than 100 colleges in the U.S. have launched campaigns to raise awareness about the environmental harm caused by disposable plastic water bottles.
Iowa’s largest universities have opted to encourage students to reach for reusable water bottles by installing custom filling stations or adding tall, gooseneck-shaped spouts to water fountains.
At the University of Iowa, filling stations are installed at 14 academic buildings and residence halls, said Liz Christiansen, U of I Office of Sustainability director. A contract with Coca-Cola has prevented students from pursuing a sale ban, she said.
Drake has a similar contract, which is why bottled water will still be sold — for now — at the Knapp Center and at the Drake Relays, wrote university President David Maxwell in a campuswide email in March.
Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa also have installed filling stations around campus, student leaders said.
Grinnell College restricted the sale of bottled water because of a student-led effort in 2011. Bottles are sold in vending machines and the college store, but are no longer used in the dining hall or campus coffee shop, college spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel said.
On Drake’s campus, students touted the environmental benefits of the bottled water ban while cautioning that some will be in for a rude surprise next fall.
“I think people are going to be mad because having bottled water is really convenient,” said Tessa Betchwars, 21, a junior. “But, what they’re doing, I think, is good for the environment.”