Banning bottled water on campus

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AMS Sustainability Coordinator Jodi Rempel
Image by: Justin Tang
AMS Sustainability Coordinator Jodi Rempel

In September 2012, all sales of bottled water on campus will come to an end, as a ban comes into effect.

The details of the decision, formally announced by Principal Woolf last January, have been under development since the creation of a policy document in December 2010, outlining the logistical aspects of the ban. Queen’s is the 10th university in Canada to ban bottled water sales on campus.

Physical Plant Services Sustainability Coordinator Aaron Ball said his office was involved with drafting the implementation plan for the logistical elements of the ban and helped perform an audit of the water fountains last summer.

“There are over 170 water fountains on campus right now, which is a pretty good amount,” Ball said, adding that the bottled water ban won’t increase the amount of water fountains on campus by much and that Physical Plant Services will instead be retrofitting some of the existing fountains with spigots, essentially taps that allow you to pour water easily into your reusable water bottle.

“Part of the policy statement for Queen’s would include mandatory water fountains as a new building standard,” Ball said, adding that the 2010 audit looked at building use and occupation.

He said that buildings like residences and small labs or offices not accessible to the general public generally lack water fountains because they have their own kitchens in place. High traffic areas like Mac-Corry and the Queen’s Centre have 12 and 15 water fountains respectively. Due to the profitless nature of water fountains, Ball said the University would definitely lose some revenue when the ban comes into effect but that it’s important to remember why the University is going forward with the ban.

“We’re trying to encourage and promote municipal water as a viable alternative,” he said.

While the ban won’t prevent students from buying bottled water off campus and drinking it on campus, Ball said students should take the issue seriously.

“I’m not a bottled water basher … but for me this issue is tied into a lot of social aspects. It’s important that we maintain the right to access clean and safe drinking water,” he said.

Jessica Strong, ConEd ’11, has been drinking out of reusable bottles since high school and said that it has become an ingrained habit now.

“I own a few water bottles, sometimes I even drink out of them when I’m at home,” Strong said, adding that the feels that there’s an even split between students who use reusable bottles and those who drink bottled water on campus.

She said that she hasn’t found water accessibility to be an issue on campus.

“There’s always something, either a sink or a water fountain. The fountains are okay, but you can only get your bottles filled two thirds of the way,” Strong said. “I was unaware that the ban was taking place. I had only heard talks, but I’m looking forward to seeing it happen.

“I use a reusable water bottle because I disagree with the sheer amount of waste produced from plastic water bottles,” she said. “Most people that use them don’t recycle them because it’s hard to find recycling on campus. Drinking water is a healthy habit, and using a reusable water is much easier as well.” Jodi Rempel, AMS sustainability coordinator, sat on the Queen’s Sustainability Advisory Committee when Principal Woolf brought the proposal to ban bottled water to them. “We unanimously supported the ban on bottled water if it meant putting more water fountains on campus,” Rempel, ArtSci ’11, said.

She said the ban would prevent vending machines that strictly sell bottled water from existing on campus. Other vending machines that sell a mixture of products including bottled water will be restocked to meet the ban’s requirements. The ban only applies to bottled water and not other bottled drinks such as soft drinks, juice and flavoured water. Rempel said that she hopes this won’t cause students to drink unhealthier options, but that the ban is not meant to enforce strict guidelines on students. Instead, it’s meant to help students understand some of the environmental and ethical concerns that come with commercial water sales.

“As an institution, we really want to support and promote access to public water. We want to make tap water seem attractive again,” Rempel said.

Queen’s Hospitality Services is also getting on board with the project, she said, as they have created rehydration stations in the cafeterias and food outlets where students can fill up their bottles or glasses with chilled water from water coolers to help promote the consumption of tap water within operating hours.

“Universities and municipalities have been doing this all across the country. It’s become normalized,” Rempel said.

Rempel said the Water Access Group (WAG), an ad hoc group of students and professors, led the movement to ban bottled water sales on campus in 2007.

“This whole thing has been student led,” Rempel, ArtSci ’11, said. “It’s great … it demonstrates that the University is being receptive to a student led movement and recognizing it’s an ethical and environmental decision.” Jamie Linton, adjunct professor in the department of geography, is a current member of WAG. He said the group has two goals: to publicize the bottled water ban and to monitor the action plan.

Linton said that bottled water is appealing because of the common misconceptions that surround municipal tap water, such as that it’s less safe and poor tasting.

“Kingston’s actually got really good quality water,” he said. “Now there’s a general recognition that bottled water is socially and environmentally unsound and that it’s no healthier than tap water.” Linton said that by promoting privatized water, society is less likely to take an interest in supporting access to public water services, and the refurbishment of things like water fountains.

“[Environmentally], it takes a huge amount of resources to produce bottles, and the disposal of plastic bottles is an environmental hazard,” Linton said, adding that WAG has no concrete plan for future lobbying against plastic bottles on campus.

Linton said that although he helped pilot the project against bottled water, the decision to ban bottled water on campus reflects the will of the whole community.

“It’s not as if it’s one group that has made this happen. It’s in response to the desire of [the administration, students and faculty],” he said.

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