AASHE Student Diary Series: Advice for Banning Bottled Water on Campus? (St. Lawrence U)
This installment of the AASHE Bulletin Sustainability Student Diary series features the writings of Mary Kohnstamm, a senior at St. Lawrence University who is president of the university's Environmental Action Organization. She details the student apathy experienced by the organization in response to its efforts to ban bottled water on campus. AASHE welcomes questions and invites feedback on each Sustainability Student Diary entry. Submit diary entries of your own for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a senior at St. Lawrence University, I have seen a multitude of environmental campaigns attempted by the student body. Some have been successful; however most have not. As president of the umbrella environmental organization at St. Lawrence, the Environmental Action Organization, for the past three semesters, I have been struck by the apathy of the student body.
Our current focus has been on banning bottled water on campus. Starting in January 2010, we created posters, collected water bottles, worked with staff to determine the amount of water bought per week from campus vendors, talked with the head of dining services and created a petition against all bottled water on campus that 300 students have signed. (Our student body is around 2,100.) We also hosted the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival this fall with the feature length film, "Tapped," which also gained student interest. In addition, we hung over 500 water bottles from the ceiling of our student center, half of which represented one week's worth of use. These were collected by the separation of the water bottles moving through the recycling center by the facilities crew, from students who had finished drinking the water, and by members of our organization who collected thrown out water bottles.
With the work of 60 active members of the organization, we were able to end the sale of Evian water in the spring of 2010. At the end of the semester, the head of dining services wrote me an email stating that the discontinued sale of bottled water like Desani and Aquafina would be possible this fall (2010), leaving the local bottled water the only type to be sold on campus. However, this did not happen as a result of students' outrage to the possibility of discontinued bottled water on campus. The head of dining services suggested that we further the push for recycling and education on the issue. One-fourth of the student body has agreed to ban bottled water while most students continue to buy it despite our education attempts. We continue to make information of bottled water available to all students, however, apathy is still prevalent.
Currently, our student government's environmental board is hoping to buy a water purification system. However, the Environmental Action Organization worries that this will not end the demand of bottled water, but will instead increase energy use, since those who currently use tap water will use this purified water, and those who buy water will just continue to do so.
The more we learn about bottled water, the more discouraged we are by the environmental, health and social justice effects due to the industry. Currently we are unsure of the next move. We hope to have a private showing of "Tapped" for the dining services staff, and our university president is aware of our work to ban bottled water. He has not pushed the issue in either way.
The reason for continued bottled water sales remains economic. We have lowered campus sales of bottled water, and continue to post information about the negative effects of the industry. Since we receive funding from Coke and Pepsi corporations, it is unlikely that such a ban will be successful. We have studied other colleges that are working to ban bottled water, and would appreciate any further advice.
Editors Note: Visit AASHE's list of Bottled Water Elimination and Reduction Campaigns (AASHE members only) for more information on those institutions that have banned bottled water from campus or have active campaigns to reduce their sale and consumption.
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