Less than a month after a student group organized its first plastic-free week, its petition to ban single-use plastic water bottles has more than 800 signatures.
“We hope to see a strong initiative to ban all single-use plastics in the future, but for now, plastic water bottles is [a] good launching- off point,” Sustainable University of Hawai‘i member Rachael Roehl said in an email interview. “Essentially everyone has come in to contact with plastic water bottles at one time or another, and few really think about what happens after they throw it away.”
Sustainable UH, working with the Surfrider Foundation at UH Mānoa, launched its petition during its plastic-free week, which took place from Nov. 17-21. It aimed to raise awareness about the pollution caused by single-use plastics.
Banning single-use plastic water bottles
As of Dec. 13, the petition had 833 signatures but hopes to receive more than 1,000, according to Roehl.
“All it really takes are small lifestyle changes, like remembering to bring your reusable water bottle, that make a huge impact on the amount of plastic that is thrown away ending up in either landfills or our oceans,” she said. “The best part is, it works like a chain reaction. When one person starts changing their ways and sharing ideas with their friends, suddenly everyone is doing it.”
The petition on MoveOn.org states that the campus community is calling for the ban, as there is a growing need for environmental stewardship on the campus, island and around the country, as well as an increase in water refill stations. In addition, at least 65 campuses on the mainland have implemented similar bans.
The effect on eateries on campus
According to Roehl, the ban would affect venues that sell water bottles and would ideally eliminate sales all together, leaving room to implement more sustainable choices such as more water refill stations or selling reusable bottles.
Mānoa Dining Services, which oversees many of the retail dining locations on campus, supports sustainability efforts, according to Sodexo General Manager Donna Ojiri. However, the department also feels it needs to support the student’s choice to use single-use plastic bottles or a reusable container.
“Many students use reusable water containers and fill them in the water filling station at Campus Center across Starbucks,” she said in an email interview. “However, there are just as many students who do not bring their own reusable containers and purchase bottled water from our operations. We are here to support the choice of the students. As a registered dietitian, I promote drinking water as healthier compared to drinking some other higher-calorie beverages, so if a student wants to purchase bottled water, I support that choice.”
Next semester, Mānoa Dining Services (MDS) is considering implementing a reuseable beverage container that can be refilled with hot coffee and fountain beverages at specific MDS locations.
Moving towards a more sustainable place
In order to implement a ban on plastic water bottles on campus, a policy needs to be developed by meeting with stakeholders on campus and seeking resolutions of support, according to Kristen Jamieson, a member of Sustainable UH.
Once the policy is drafted, the administration needs to approve it before it can be integrated into university operations.
According to Interim System Sustainability Coordinator Matthew Lynch, such a ban aligns with the Board of Regents’ executive policy, which states the university is “committed to social, cultural, environmental and economic sustainability in operations; education, research and service; planning, administration and engagement; and cultural and community connections.”
“A ban on single-use plastic water bottles at the UHM campus represents a leverage point to help the university reduce our total solid-waste stream and would be a significant step towards establishing a campus culture that integrates sustainability values in an island context with global impact,” Lynch said in an email interview.
The policy also charges the UH president and the chancellors to establish “system-wide and, where appropriate, campus-specific metrics and targets for improved efficiency and reduced resource waste for buildings, climate, dining, energy, grounds, purchasing, transportation, waste and water” and develop initiatives to further reduce waste.