Interview with Wilfrid Laurier University on Plastic Bottle Ban

Published On January 2, 2014 | By Hannah Ellsbury | Articles, School, Take Action

Our team was given the change to speak with Susie Turner,  Wilfrid Laurier University‘s executive for the EcoHawks, about their current initiatives towards Banning the Bottle throughout campus.

Why were you interested in banning the bottle on your campus?

–          The environmental impact of plastic on our planet as a material that does not fully biodegrade and the knowledge that there are sustainable, economic, easy solutions available was a key motivation

–          The impact of large bottling companies which extract massive amounts of fresh water in order to bottle it, and the impact this has on surrounding communities, hydrology, wildlife and vegetation

–          Water is a right, and we are unbelievably fortunate to have it available as a virtually free resource in Canada. In such a context, it is unjust for water to be sold at huge mark-ups by bottling companies for profit

These are just a few of the main motivations that stood behind our work to make Wilfrid Laurier plastic bottle-free

When did you launch the movement towards banning the bottle?

–          Last Fall (2012) was when the idea took form, and when Internal and External Affairs, subcommittees of Laurier’s environmental advocacy team called the EcoHawks, began formulating a proposal

–          The official launch of the plan to the student body was November 13th 2013

How did you and will you continue to bring awareness to the idea of banning plastic bottled water on your campus?

–          Last year: members of the Internal and External Affairs subcommittees visited key groups on the Laurier campus to spread awareness of the plan and request their feedback. We also set up a number of booths to speak to students and ask for their thoughts on the plan

–          This year: we held a media launch of the plan on November 13th, which involved multiple social media platforms (Facebook, the Students’ Union website, Twitter, the Sustainability Office website, and our school newspaper). We have also held a number of booths and events to promote the plan

What are the benefits you sought from banning the bottle?

A couple of these include:

–          Support a decreased environmental footprint of Wilfrid Laurier and its students, faculty and staff

–          Push for a relatively small change which will hopefully motivate members of the Laurier community to consider the wider impacts of their consumer choices, the alternatives that exist, and to act as informed community members when it comes to the environment

What changes and progress have you noticed since the launch?

–          Working through the proposal with university administration has enabled positive relationships and collaborative partnerships to grow towards achieving this change

How have staff/students accepted the movement? What was the initial reaction? What feedback have you received?

–          In general, it has been amazing to see the widespread support of the plan from Laurier community members. The plan holds the aim of supporting a cultural shift on campus which makes using water re-fill stations and a reusable bottle part of people’s daily routine, but it has been encouraging to see how much this is already taking place

–          There is definite hesitation from the business perspective in terms of (1) reducing consumer’s choice, especially when it comes to visitors to the university (2) franchise regulations and procurement practices (3) the possibility that, without access to bottled water on campus, students will opt for less healthy alternatives

What additional steps do you think should be taken in order to continue and grow this movement?

–          Continued collaboration, support and discussion with Food Services on campus as negotiations with franchises and contracts take place over the next few years

–          Further promotion and awareness campaigns to engage the student body and faculty/staff

–          Some form of visual reminder of this transition: a banner or sign which illustrates the university’s pledge to go bottled water-free

–          Further alternatives for accessing water on campus i.e. If someone forgets their reusable bottle, they can buy a full reusable one at the convenience store

–          Monitoring and support from the EcoHawks and Sustainability Office to ensure that the plan is moving forward and, over the next couple of years, implemented

–          Greater communication and collaboration between Laurier’s campuses to ensure that the plan moves forward in each Laurier community

 What other green steps are you taking within your campus?

–          The Sustainability Office facilitates a wide range of projects and changes on campus, the bulk of which can be seen in their Sustainability Action Plan. The office is an amazing agent of positive, innovative change on campus, and has done an incredible job in supporting Laurier’s sustainable identity

–          The EcoHawks, Students’ Union and Sustainability Council also work to bring about positive changes in terms of sustainability on campus e.g. composting in residences, increased green spaces, a community garden, energy-saving practices

–         The presence of necessary infrastructure on the university campus (water refill stations in academic buildings) was a key precondition to this plan. Having refill stations was a necessary first step in order for the plan to be viable

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