UW Students Take Another Stab at a Plastic Bottle Ban

Published On January 17, 2013 | By Hannah Ellsbury | Articles, School

A group of students at the University of Waterloo are quickly learning why no public institution in the region has yet banned the sale of bottled water on its property.

University of Waterloo

The 10-or-so students who make up the UW Ban the Bottle Coalition received mostly positive feedback from school officials, until they approached the school’s director of food services, Lee Elkas, with their idea.

Coalition member Allison Bawden says they were told “there’s nothing really (the university) can do until no one who attends the university – faculty, student or staff – wants to buy bottled water.”

Undeterred by the lack of enthusiasm, they hosted a “bottled water-free day” on Wednesday in the Great Hall of the school’s Student Life Centre.

The students handed out about 250 free reusable water bottles and conducted a water tasting, where passersby could try to guess if the water they were offered was from a bottle or from the tap.

Coalition member Lizanne Pharand said their efforts attracted “much more activity than we expected,” with a large number of people coming by to sign petitions and grab free reusable bottles.

Elkas said while the university is not considering a ban at this time, visitors to the school will be able to refill reusable water bottles for free at food outlets throughout campus. The school’s food services department even donated several hundred of the reusable bottles that supporters of the ban handed out during their day of action.

“We’re still seeing strong support at the tills for buying bottled water,” Elkas said. “We’re here as a customer service or student service.”

Critics of bottled-water bans, including representatives of Canada’s bottled water industry, say that the negative environmental effects of plastic bottle waste are exaggerated. They also state that the amount of water drawn from Canadian lakes, rivers and springs to be used to fill plastic water bottles has a negligible effect on the nation’s water supply.

But Pharand says the fact that bottled water plants are tested several times a month, while municipal drinking water is tested several times per day is the most convincing evidence for a ban.

“For those people who are concerned with safety, they almost should be more concerned with bottled water.”

At least 11 other Canadian post-secondary institutions, including Trent University, the University of Ottawa and Ryerson University, have banned the on-campus sale of bottled water. The University of Winnipeg became the first Canadian university to do so in 2009.

Bawden says previous efforts to ban bottled water sales at the University of Waterloo failed because “there wasn’t really a paper trail,” which meant students involved in the effort would graduate and not pass the torch to younger students.


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