In collaboration with Bon Appétit, members of the Wesleyan Student Assembly Dining Committee are currently discussing strategies for reducing bottled water consumption on campus. Although no concrete plans to reduce the availability of bottled water are in place, one option under consideration is the replacement of the bottled water for sale at Weshop with an AquaHealth brand filtered water dispenser in the store.
“For a couple years now, EON [the Environmental Organizers’ Network] has been thinking about ways to reduce bottled water use on campus, mostly for environmental reasons,” said EON Co-Coordinator and Representative to the Dining Committee Anne Rosenthal ’10. “This year we’re really looking for ways to work with Bon Appétit to institutionalize the minimization of it.”
The Dining Committee’s first step is to conduct an assessment of the level of student support for the removal of bottled water.
“We care about sustainability, but we’re also looking to keep the best interests of the student body in mind,” said Chair of the Dining Committee Ben Firke ’12. “We’re in the process of determining whether or not the student body would be willing to use something like AquaHealth.”
AquaHealth, Inc. has almost finished developing the filtered water-dispensing machine that would allow students to swipe a meal card in exchange for an amount of purified water, according to Bon Appétit Resident District Manager Michael Strumpf. The installation of such a machine at Weshop would allow students to fill their own reusable water bottles with AquaHealth water purchased from the dispenser.
According to Strumpf, the cost of water from one of these machines would be about half the cost of bottled water. While Bon Appetit would still make money from the machine, there are concerns that it would not recover from the loss of bottled water sales.
“We have hurdles here,” Strumpf said. “Are the customers going to pay for filtered water coming out of the machine that way?”
Even if the student body is found to support removal of bottled water and the AquaHealth machine appears to be a viable option, Strumpf noted that it is unlikely that any major changes will occur until next semester.
In the meantime, EON has made efforts to increase student awareness of the high cost of bottled water by flyering around campus and encouraging academic departments to use pitchers of water at events over individual bottles of water.
“The next logical step is to start taking it away from certain spots on campus,” Rosenthal said. “Other schools, such as Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Winnipeg have already taken such measures.”
Rosenthal cited financial, environmental, and health effects as reasons for avoiding bottled water: it is more expensive than tap water, the energy costs and pollution associated with recycling and transporting bottles tax the environment—even if the bottles are recycled—and regulation of the bottled water industry is fairly limited, so in some cases tap water is in fact safer to drink than bottled water.
“The crux of this campaign is the awareness issue, because when kids get off campus there’s going to be bottled water everywhere,” Rosenthal said. “We just want them to get in the habit of thinking about the impacts of their purchases and getting used to alternatives.”
In order to address the concerns of students who may be uncomfortable with drinking tap water, a group of EON members is currently working on a map of water fountains on campus in order to determine locations that could benefit from additional filtered water stations.
Even if bottled water is removed from Weshop, however, it will most likely still be available at other locations, like Pi and Usdan Café.
“We want to be good stewards of the earth,” Firke said. “But we also want to make sure that if there’s something that Wesleyan students really become reliant on, we’re not going to deprive them of that for what they would interpret as being arbitrary reasons.”