Group proposes water bottle ban on campus

‘Increase the number and quality of drinking water fountains’

AMS Sustainability Co-ordinator Claire Nelischer (left) and assistant geography professor Jamie Linton. Linton says residences seem to be the biggest producers of bottled water.
AMS Sustainability Co-ordinator Claire Nelischer (left) and assistant geography professor Jamie Linton. Linton says residences seem to be the biggest producers of bottled water.

A university-wide audit shows 84 of the 151 water fountains assessed on campus are in need of repair, the Water Access Group (WAG) said.

The WAG, an informal group of students and faculty, wants to improve public access to drinking fountains on campus.

“Our group has two objectives: first is to increase the number and the quality of drinking water fountains [and] second is to move towards decreasing the number of bottled water on campus,” WAG member and assistant geography professor Jamie Linton said.

The criteria for assessing the fountains included wheelchair accessibility, types of fountain—such as freestanding or embedded—water pressure and temperature, taste, gooseneck spouts for filling up water bottles and hygiene, he said.

The water fountains surveyed were dirty, damaged or lacked gooseneck spouts, Linton said.

“Drinking fountain water is cheaper than bottled water and it’s just as healthy,” he said. “Environmentally it’s better as it’s much less water bottles, which reduces the amount of waste. Socially it contributes to a stronger sense of public good as well as helps the University’s reputation as an environmentally friendly campus.”

Linton said he hopes the University will reduce the availability of bottled water on campus and be the first university in Ontario to go bottled-water free.

Queen’s has a 10-year exclusivity contract with Coca Cola that makes them the only cold beverage supplier on campus. The contract expires Aug. 31.

The University of Winnipeg, Memorial University and Brandon University are the only three Canadian universities that have discontinued the sale of bottled water on their campus. The universities still sell other bottled beverages.

“I think it is important to recognize that our drinking water needs improvement as our survey indicates,” Linton said. “Some fountains are dirty, some of them are inaccessible, the quality of the water is warm, fixtures are old and not appealing; however, some are quite good and we need to ensure that they all meet such standards.”

AMS Sustainability Co-ordinator Claire Nelischer said the audit has revealed it isn’t the lack of fountains that’s the problem, but the placement of them. Some fountains are placed behind vending machines or otherwise blocked, she said.

“Now that we have data, we hope to present it in a proposal to convince the University of our arguments,” she said, adding that they don’t currently have a set timeline for the project.

Nelischer said newer buildings on campus have fewer water fountains and the WAG hopes to put forth a University policy in the future that stipulates minimum fountain requirements for buildings.

“We’re not looking for a one-time deal; we want repaired and more lasting drinking fountains,” she said.

Society of Graduate and Professional Studies Vice-President (Campaigns and Community Affairs) Steve Osterberg said there have been a lot of empty plastic water bottles littered around campus that the University has had to dispose of.

“If we were to improve water fountains and their accessibility to students, it would be economically beneficial for the University,” he said, adding that Queen’s could save some money on maintenance expenses.

Osterberg said the plan doesn’t include other bottled drinks, such as vitamin water.

“When we thought about decreasing access to bottled water, we considered including Vitamin water as well at first,” he said. “Though personally I think the idea of Vitamin water is stupid, it’s a personal choice. So we decided against it since it’s something that isn’t available from a tap.”

Osterberg said municipality tests have shown tap water is safer than bottled water.

“I think the one downfall to our current plan is that we’ve found that there isn’t much access to safe drinking water in student residences,” he said. “Residences seem to be the biggest producers of bottled water. … It seems that our best opportunity to solve that would be when the University renegotiates its exclusivity contract with Coke.

“In the end, if there are more accessible water fountains, it would be beneficial to students in the long run.”

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