UP first on West Coast to ban bottled water

By The Beacon | February 3, 2010 9:00pm

UP moves ban of bottled water sales up to coincide with other efforts on campus

By Hannah Gray

The University's decision to discontinue the sale of bottled water was not a surprise to many on campus, but the timing was.

"This was my decision to step up the timetable," said Bon Appétit general manager Kirk Mustain. "To me, this is a stake in the ground in terms of sustainability."

Originally, the plan to remove bottled water from The Cove, vending machines and the concession stands was scheduled to take effect around UP's spring break in early March, according Mustain. Instead, it took effect Feb. 1.

The Jan. 26 announcement, including a widely-distributed press release, coincided with the University's efforts to generate publicity for UP's water conference - Confluences: Water and Justice - which is scheduled for late March, according to Mustain.

The strategy worked. KATU, KGW, Willamette Week, the Oregonian, the Beverage Network, various blogs and other media jumped on the bandwagon.

"Water is becoming a big issue on campus," Mustain said. "We're becoming the university on the river - a part of that is becoming a good steward of the environment around."

While Bon Appetit no longer sells bottled water on campus, flavored Life Water and other bottled beverages will continue to be sold, according to Mustain.

"It's not going to make a huge dent, but it's a first step," Mustain said about the discontinuation of bottled water sales.

There are many social justice and environmental issues surrounding the sale of disposable plastic water bottles.

"It's not a simple issue of deciding not to buy water anymore," Mustain said.

The discontinuation is consistent with Catholic social teaching, which says that everyone has a right to water, according to Mustain.

"Privatizing water is a social justice issue, no doubt," said Steven Kolmes, chairman of the Environmental Science Department and a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Sustainability.

For their Environmental Studies capstone project, seniors Anne Bertucio, Risa Pond and Alyssa Schmidt-Carr are focusing on water privatization, specifically within the bottled water industry.

"A lot of water bottle companies are going into places which are struggling economically and sucking out their water and leaving these places dry," said Schmidt-Carr, citing India as an example.

Kolmes added that water bottle companies disrupt the local agriculture and wells, which causes negative impacts on the community.

"The greater majority of students are more than capable of understanding that water is a public good and not a resource to be commodified," Kolmes said.

Furthermore, some bottled water may not be as pristine as people may think.

"Bottled water is often tap water from other cities, unless it says spring water," Kolmes said.

Kolmes also said that Portland area tap water is one of the best in the country because it originates from Mount Hood.

"(There is an) incredibly beautiful, pristine watershed on the side of Mount Hood," Kolmes said.

Those involved in the plan to discontinue the sale of bottled water think it will be effective and widely accepted among the UP community.

"I think the administration is so excited, the professors are so excited, and once the students realize the difference they're making, they'll be excited to," Bertuico said.

However, some students wonder if the change will really be effective.

"UP, if they really want to be sustainable, needs to not just get rid of water bottles but get rid of Gatorade and soda bottles," said senior Wendy Seiber. "When they do get rid of the water bottles, students can go to Freddy's and get cases of water bottles for cheap."

Students who buy bottled water off-campus will not be in violation of the new policy. While the University is no longer selling bottled water, it is not banning people from drinking it on campus.

"There's no water bottle police," Kolmes said. "We're just not providing them. We hope students will be using refillable water bottles."