University of Vermont Agrees to Ban Bottled Water, Gets Backlash from IBWA

Published On February 13, 2012 | By Tomás Bosque | News

In an effort to be more environmentally-friendly, the University of Vermont plans to stop selling bottled water on campus by 2013.

In preparation, water-bottle filling stations will be set up around campus that allow students to simply fill up their own water bottles in lieu of needing to make a purchase. As many as 75 water fountains on the campus will be converted to water refilling stations.

The changes are the result of a student-led effort.

“We wanted people to think about why they’re purchasing bottled water,” Greg Francese, president of the school’s Vermont Student Environmental Program, or VSTEP, told The Vermont Cynic. “The way we’ve done that is basically just by educating people about why you can get virtually the same product for free out of a water fountain.”

Specifically, the sale of water bottles on campus will stop on January 1, 2013. The move means that the school will not renew its contract with Coca-Cola, which had sole rights on campus and did about 1.1 million bottled-beverage sales there annually, according to The Chronicle. That contract, which expires in June, generates more than $480,00 in revenue for the school each year. University officials have indicated that some of that loss could be made up by enacting new contracts with other vendors, The Chronicle reported.

“This action is not likely to save the University any money, but hopefully students will save money by having better access to chilled drinking water for which they do not have to pay,” said Richard Cate, vice president of finance and administration, to The Vermont Cynic.

This means that bottled water will be removed from approximately 60 vending machines on campus. In addition to banning bottled water, the school also has a mandate that at least a third of the drinks in vending machines be healthy.

According to a press release, the plan has caused a reaction from the International Bottled Water Association, or IBWA. The IBWA argued that the school is sending a mixed message and that the water bottle ban will restrict students’ freedom of choice.

“The university has failed to understand that bottled water is most often an alternative to other packaged drinks, which are often less healthy, and is not necessarily an alternative to tap water,” Chris Hogan, IBWA vice president of communications, said in the press release. “Research by owners of vending machines show when bottled water is not available in a vending machine, people choose other packaged beverages, which may contain sugar, caffeine and other additives. They don’t necessarily go looking for a drinking water fountain.”

But Mikayla McDonald, former president of VSTEP, said that the need for bottled water is a recent creation. McDonald told The Vermont Cynic “that there was essentially no need or want for it until bottled water companies started spending billions of dollars on advertising.”

[Original source via CTI News]

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11 Responses to University of Vermont Agrees to Ban Bottled Water, Gets Backlash from IBWA

  1. James L. Fee says:

    Great innovation.
    (Get with it Middlebury!)

  2. Staci says:

    Great idea! Plastic bottles drive me nuts – especially when they are not recycled!

  3. rd says:

    great to hear – i hope other colleges, universities and other institutions follow suit!

  4. Anna says:

    The saddest thing is seeing these very same plastic bottles polluting countries like Egypt and India where water safety is an issue. This plastic bottle pollution (1000’s of them) comes from the tourist trade!!! I will never forget being in Sardegna and seeing young Amrican tourists on a ferry throwing bottles and cans of cocacola overboard… Let’s educete, empower and change…

  5. Kristy says:

    Its not only in schools that should ban plastic bottles, just because its handy does not mean its healthy for people and marine life. The damage water bottles that are causing are crucial and will only worsen. I sure hope the usuage of water bottles decrease to under 5% I hope sooner or later people will pick up on this.

    What it takes to make all these water bottles, are seriously causing droughts through out the US, cost them no money to take the water out of our grounds and charge us for our own water back. For what? Convienance. Stop being so lazy, not everything gets handed to you. Helpful link, the movie, Tapped was kind of a cool watch. It opened my eyes of things I usually dont see daily. Thankful for documentaries and for the people who care.

  6. Jessica says:

    The pros outweigh the cons, simply put. I’d rather have most universities put these as guidelines towards changing their own campuses. Maybe they should still have water and other HEALTHY options in the vending machines, but still keep the water on tap right near them, as well as a recycling bin for the bottles right next to them as well. That way they still have choices, but they have better options as well.

  7. Jack says:

    Pollution of water bottles is a non-issue. It’s not like any new mass is created when bottles are made. Same with any type of litter. It comes from earth in one form, is changed and put back into the earth. Net exchange equals zero.

    • Chad says:

      That is absolutely incorrect. Plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller particles. It floats just below the surface of water. The small particles concentrate as they move up the food chain/web. It has become so ubiquitous that 100% of people tested for plastic in their bodies have tested positive. And, our bodies are not adapted to dealing with these artificial chemicals and have trouble removing them. Plastic pollution is the worst environmental disaster we have brought upon ourselves. Far worse than all oil spills combined.

  8. george says:

    What happens on graduation weekends hockey games ect… when more than just students are on campus? drinking fountians are not healthy.

  9. Dawn says:

    I applaud University of Vermont’s decision to stop selling bottled water. I wish my university, NYU, would follow suit. It took my department – Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health – a move to another building to get a proper filling station! I am all for an increase in drinking fountains as a way to deal with bottled water.

    I think everyone here has raised good points, from environmental concerns to issues about waste and consumer choice. If anything, the sheer number of sales at this university alone – 1.1 million bottles of water sold per year! – should indicate the severity of the larger problem UVM is addressing. It’s important to keep in mind that the majority of schools and universities in this country sell bottled water, so try multiplying UVM’s numbers by how many schools you think there are in the US, and if the numbers don’t make you want to give up the bottle, consider that the US goes through about half a billion bottles per week. Scary stuff.

    As for the response from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), I can’t say I’m surprised. What I find frustrating is that the industry’s first response is always about consumer choice. While I believe in consumer choice, consumer AND industry responsibility must be part of the equation, as well. Reference to consumer choice is an easy out, as it masks the power of marketing in the creation of the “demand” for the product and prevents people from thinking critically about the issue when they think they are somehow being disenfranchised.

    Furthermore, the IBWA’s reference to healthy choices is a weak attempt to divert attention about their anger over the loss of sales. If someone wants water, they want water and they’re not going to buy a Coke because Dasani’s not in the machine. I am getting tired of hearing the bottled water industry exploit issues of public health (obesity is the big one they now like to latch onto) to defend their push to be ubiquitous. As such, I think McDonald’s point at the end about the manufacturing of demand makes us think about what everyone did before the advent of bottled water: at universities and schools, they drank out of the fountain.

    • Hannah Ellsbury says:

      Thanks for the intriguing post Dawn. We hope that more and more colleges/universities will follow in the footsteps of University of Vermont to ban to sale of bottled water on campus. Although these statistics are stunning, we can all help by banning the bottle ourselves and spreading the word. Check out our page “How to Start a Campaign” for your university.

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