Last semester, the University implemented a bottled water ban on campus. Bottled water is no longer available for purchase from University dining centers, vending machines, the Pi Café, or Weshop. Though the ban has been implemented in those locations, a campus-wide bottled water ban is not officially a part of University policy. Bottled water is still available at several University locations, including WesWings and the Red and Black Café.

“I think it’s fantastic that Wesleyan [is moving to] eliminate bottled water from campus,” University Sustainability Coordinator Jennifer Kleindienst wrote in an email to The Argus. “Bottled water is highly unsustainable—from the production of water bottles (an individual water bottle takes petroleum and 1.85 gallons of water to produce) to the water inside the bottles.”

Kleindienst also pointed out that water quality testing regulations are far less stringent for bottled water than for tap water. According to Kleindienst, bottled water is regulated by the FDA, which imposes weaker regulations than the EPA, the regulatory body that oversees tap water. Thus bottled water is more likely to be contaminated without a consumer’s knowledge. Additionally, production of the plastic used to make the bottles, polyethylene terepthalate (PET), is a major environmental contaminant. PET production generates over 100 times more toxic emissions than the production of an equivalent amount of petroleum.

Former Sustainability Intern Melody Oliphant ’13 has spearheaded the movement for the ban since its inception in spring 2010. Last semester, she proposed a WSA resolution to ban water bottles from campus. She and recent graduate Hailey Still ’12 hosted film screenings and held open forums for students who resisted bottled water removal. Though none of these functions were well attended by members of the student body, the WSA resolution to ban bottled water passed with a unanimous vote. The ban was further supported later that semester when a second proposal to eliminate bottled water from campus was passed by the Sustainability Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship (SAGES).

In another water-related sustainability initiative, W.B. Mason, which is a privately owned supply contract retailer, installed filtered water stations for use in campus offices last summer. As of this semester, bottle-filling stations can be found in academic buildings. According to Kleindienst, some people argue that purchasing a plastic water bottle from a cooler is more convenient than refilling their reusable bottle. By making water easy for students with reusable bottles to access, Kleindienst hopes to see a shift in student behavior toward more convenient, sustainable alternatives. Oliphant also advocates for this shift toward reusable bottles.

“Anyone who opposes this issue does so on the sole basis of their convenience,” Oliphant said. “[They think] that their convenience is more important than environmental stewardship, which I think is silly.”

Since spring 2012, vending machines, eateries, and catered events on campus have not sold bottled water. During the May 2012 Reunion and Commencement Weekend, the University rented a water bottle refilling station from Event Water Solutions, which was said to be a success. Bon Appétit also supplied water coolers to fill reusable bottles. However, bottled water was still distributed during the event as it had been in past years. Oliphant expressed dissatisfaction with this.

“They had legitimate concern about the health and safety of visitors to campus, especially the elderly and disabled…so they decided to continue to supply bottled water for that day and not change anything,” Oliphant said. “I was incredibly disappointed in their reaction, and their reluctance to cooperate on the initiative. I was hopeful that we could reach a compromise.”

Coca-Cola, the University’s bottled water supplier for the past 20 years, expressed opposition to the ban. In a letter to The Argus, General Manager Steven K. Perrelli voiced his dissent from a business angle. However, he also applauded the University’s efforts to institute a sustainability coordinator on campus. Perrelli hoped that Coca-Cola and Wesleyan would engage collaboratively in sustainability efforts and investments in the years to come.

Bottled water is still available for purchase at WesWings and the Red and Black Café, and SmartWater can still be purchased at Weshop.

“The last standing piece that we’re still struggling with is WesWings, which is privately owned and happily cooperates with the University on many major initiatives,” Oliphant said. “I’m hopeful that we will be able to persuade WesWings and Red and Black to remove bottled water and abide by University preferences in the near future.”

  • Guest

    Bottled water is a valuable choice from a health and safety perspective, and while it is commendable that Wesleyan continues to make it available to students and visitors, albeit in a limited fashion, this article unfortunately presents several inaccurate claims and statements.

    For example, Ms. Kleindienst’s claim that “water quality testing regulations are far less stringent for bottled water than for tap water,” is factually incorrect.

    Bottled water is comprehensively regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a packaged food product and it provides a consistently safe and reliable source of drinking water. By mandate of federal law, the FDA
    regulations governing the safety and quality of bottled water must be at least
    as stringent as the EPA regulations that govern tap water. In some cases, the bottled water regulations are more stringent. And, in some very important cases like lead, coliform bacteria, and E. coli, bottled water regulations are substantially more stringent.

    Additionally, I take issue with Ms. Oliphant’s declaration that “anyone who opposes this issue does so on the sole basis of their convenience.” From a health standpoint, bottled water is essential to reversing the obesity epidemic. People need convenience in their busy lives, so a majority (70%) of what they drink comes out of a package. Bottled water is already making a difference
    as people switch from sweetened, caloric drinks. Replacing just one 12-ounce sugared beverage with a bottle of water each day for a year can trim more than 50,000 calories a year from a person’s diet. That’s a real contribution to a healthier lifestyle.

    From a safety standpoint, bottled water protects people and can even save lives. When tap water is disrupted by anything from a power outage to a pipe breach to a disaster, bottled water provides a reliable second source of safe drinking water. In addition, the sealed container provides a promise of quality. In fact, federal health officials recommend bottled water for people with weakened immune systems.

    And, as recent events across the East Coast have shown us, having access to safe, reliable sources of water needed is vital for health and safety. Bottled water is potable, portable, safe and clean. But it’s also important to realize that bottled water can only be available for emergency situations if we continue to maintain a strong, viable commercial and retail bottled water market.

    From an environmental standpoint, when people choose a bottle of water compared to any other canned or bottled beverage, they are choosing less packaging, less energy, and less use of natural resources. What’s more, recycling the bottle can cut that impact by an additional fifty percent, if it is re-used to replace virgin PET.

  • Jen Kleindienst

    A 2009 report ( from the US Government Accountability Office, “FDA Safety and Consumer Protections Are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water,” says it all.

    Drinking water instead of a sugary beverage is certainly healthier, but neither Ms. Oliphant nor myself are suggesting that people stop drinking water. A reusable water bottle can pay for itself in only a few uses (depending on what bottle you buy). If people are concerned about chemicals in tap water, filtered water is a sustainable and convenient option. Both water filtration systems in Wesleyan’s offices and most drinking fountains/bottle fill stations on campus now offer filtered water.

    As I noted in the article, bottled water is wasteful: it takes 1.85 gallons of water just to produce the petroleum-based bottle that bottled water comes in, not to mention the water in the bottle. It doesn’t make sense to ship water around in sealed packages when we have perfectly good water right at our taps.