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.”