Vermont Campus Pushes to Strengthen Current Bottle Ban
The bottle ban might not be water under the bridge just yet.
In 2012, the University ended the sale of flavorless bottled water on campus and mandated that one-third of beverages offered in vending machines be “healthy options,” according to a Feb. 2012 article published by the Vermont Cynic.
The policy went into effect Jan. 1, 2013 and after a year of implementation, some students are questioning its effectiveness.
First-year SGA Senator Savannah Miller has spoken to students about the issue and thinks that the ban does not go far enough.
“I received a lot of complaints about how the school still offers flavored water bottles, even with the ban in place,” she said. “The flavored water bottles defeat the purpose of this ban.”
Despite this, Miller said one of the reasons why she came to the University was the water bottle ban.
“I find it so incredible that the students at this university cared so much about this issue that they put all their efforts into creating this ban,” she said.
The students’ push to end the sale of bottled water, led by the Vermont Student Environmental Program (VSTEP) began five years prior to their success, according to the Office of Sustainability’s “Bottled Water Story.”
Bottled Up – The Ban in Brief
“The end of bottled water sales came after years of student activism, including SGA resolutions, support from faculty and staff and prolonged outreach programs,” Gioia Thompson, director of the office of sustainability said.
Thompson explained some of the many ways in which students, volunteers and others helped to make the ban happen.
“An intern made a fountains map, dining services made signs explaining the decision, an artist enlisted students and many volunteers for the art project that was displayed at the bottled water retirement party, and conference & events services purchased outdoor portable fountains to provide water at graduation,” she said.
Senior Sam Kahn-Arcangeli was an IRA member during the process, a student group that collected signatures of campus residents who supported the ban.
“It was one of the few issues brought up that had if not unanimous, nearly unanimous support,” he said. “There was no downside to having bottled water banned on campus.”
The University supplemented the ban by replacing and adding new water fountains as well as retrofitting them with bottle fill spouts, according to Richard Cate, vice president for finance.
“We invested $120,000 in retrofitting and replacing water fountains with bottle fill devices,” he said. “I would assert that we needed to do this work anyway but the ban on sale of bottled water was the catalyst.”
While Cate said that there were some financial consequences, he noted that bottled water sales had already been significantly declining.
“Students were well along in the transition to reusable containers well before the ban was implemented,” he said.
BPAwful – The Argument Against Plastic Bottles
Those who support the ban cite environmental and health concerns of plastic bottle use, as well as Burlington’s access to clean drinking water.
“Water coming from a municipal source is cleaner because it is checked more often by the state than bottled water, which sometimes isn’t even checked at all,” junior Ben Decarlo said. “It’s not smart water, it’s dumb water bottles.”
Water used for drinking is drawn from areas of Lake Champlain that have low contaminants before being sent through a treatment plant, according to the 2012 Annual Water Quality Report released by the Burlington Department of Public Works.
“It’s water,” sophomore Sarah Erskine, vice president of VSTEP, said. “It’s free.”
Dr. Frances Carr, a professor in the Rubenstein School, has been studying the effects of BPA, a chemical found in plastic water bottles, on health.
“BPA, a xenoestrogen, has been shown to disrupt reproductive development, neural development and is associated with the development of endocrine-related cancers,” she said. “BPA exposure has been linked with cognitive impairments and metabolic disorders as well.”
She said BPA isn’t limited to plastic bottles, but can also be found on linings of cans, plastic coatings on glasses and paper receipts, among other things, she said.
A 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition examination survey revealed detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of its test subjects, according to the survey, which they claim is representative of the wider United States population.
“One reason people may be concerned about BPA is because human exposure to BPA is widespread,” the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences website stated.
Bubblers or Bottles – Next Steps
Savannah Miller sees two options moving forward.
“I propose either bringing back regular water bottles and finding an alternative initiative to handling water bottle waste or eliminating flavored water bottles as well,” she said.
Miller said she plans to focus on the latter.
Some, including junior VSTEP president Claire Wiggin, see noteworthy purpose in the ban as it is.
“It’s reminding people the ridiculousness of having to buy water,”Wiggin said.
In addition to students, University athletics also had to face the effect of the ban, though Associate Director of Athletics Joe Fischer said fans have transitioned well.
“Now that some time has passed, our fans have adapted to the change and regularly bring their own water bottles and fill them at the filling stations,” he said.
The water bottle ban has proven to enhance the University’s reputation, Cate said.
“Peer institutions and the national media paid a great deal of attention to what we accomplished and the responses were universally positive,” he said.
As for VSTEP, they plan to develop a program to further the sustainable push that the bottle ban initiated.
“We’re trying to start this campaign of small steps,” Wiggin said. “These small things that people can do in their daily lives to instill sustainable practices.”
“You’re already making a difference with everything you do,” Erskine said. “You have to make that positive and not negative.”