Universities not bottling it

One of the things I didn’t know until recently is that universities and colleges account for quite an astounding percentage of the sale of bottled water – in particular water sold in small bottles. These (almost invariably plastic) bottles in turn have become a major environmental issue: it would not be so if the bottles were all consistently recycled, but those sold in universities almost always are not.

There are of course many solutions to this, including the use of water fountains (although these often involve plastic glasses with similar issues), encouraging people to use tap water, setting up proper and convenient recycling bins, and so forth. But for now, on most campuses thousands of bottles are sold and then discarded – if we are lucky, in some litter bin, or quite often just thrown away at random.

Now in the United States a number of universities have banned the sale of bottled water this autumn in order to tackle this environmental problem. We should probably be considering something similar here, and also use the occasion to look again more generally at the environmental impact of what we do. Universities are educators, employers and businesses, and environmentally conscious programmes initiated there tend to have a disproportionate effect. It’s time to act responsibly.

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5 Comments on “Universities not bottling it”

  1. wendymr Says:

    Many people here own durable water-bottles, often with sealable apertures for drinking without having to take the top off. We refill from water fountains or UV filtration units connected to tap water. The sale of bottled water is banned on City property or at any event where the City has issued a licence.

    People have adapted pretty well – carrying coffee-mugs in the morning, water-bottles the rest of the day!

  2. Vincent Says:

    It won’t work for the mains water is absolutely horrible in most Universities.
    The mains in the Uni is a series of cul-d’sac where the water sits for far longer that normal. All the while leaching all sorts of stuff from the walls of the pipes. Here in Ireland this issue is very acute for a number of reasons. But mostly to do with water sourced with different ph.
    When did you ever send your maintenance people around the scour valves to flush the system after a summer of idleness.

  3. copernicus Says:

    When I was managing the budget of my department in an university not long ago, the deparment expense per month for getting themineral water supply became very significant. When we were wondering how to reduce the cost without incurring the wrath of colleagues, there was an outbreak of the same kind of respiratory infection which almost all staff suffered from, and which brought the department functions to a halt as the staff started taking sick leave. It was puzzling as no other colleague in the department next door suffered from this infection , and there was one colleague in our department who brought her own supply of water, and she was the only one who was well, and hence was immediately put in charge of administration of the department. After eliminating many causes, it was finally traced to one staff member’s reused water bottle which she filled with water putting its neck well into the supply tap head, thus transferring the virus she earlier deposied in the water bottle neck onto the tap head. That, more than the cost of the mineral water supplies saw the end of the practice of buying mineral water.

  4. Perry Share Says:

    I’d agree with such a ban, but this is probably more difficult to effect now that just about every 3rd level institution has outsourced its catering to companies such as Aramark and Sodexo. That said, chewing gum appears to be banned from sale on most campuses – but I would imagine that the sale of bottled water is a much more profitable exercise for such companies.

  5. Douglas Says:

    I am proud to live in a country with a supply of piped water to the vast majority of the population that is safe and healthy. On the occasions when public water has been contaminated, there have usually been safe alternative bowser supplies. Despite population growth far in excess of the design capacity, the occurrence of water-borne illness in Ireland is close to zero.

    It would be far better to treasure this privilege and ensure that the public supply system is adequately maintained and upgraded.

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