A discussion on the bottled water ban

In September, 2012, a ban on the sale of bottled water will take effect. Our panellists discuss the impact this will have and the ethics of water commoditization broadly.

Banning bottled water won’t solve the problem, Dan Osborne argues.
Banning bottled water won’t solve the problem, Dan Osborne argues.
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Our panellists agreed that the ban will only have a meaningful effect if more fountains and free access points to water are provided.
Our panellists agreed that the ban will only have a meaningful effect if more fountains and free access points to water are provided.
Photo: 

Take a stand and fight the corporatization of a public good

Devin McDonald, ArtSci ’13

The first reaction to a ban of any sort is to consider the extent to which the measures imposed by the ban connect to the aims which initially justified the ban.

Thus, the reaction of many of my counterparts would be to examine the extent to which the water bottle ban would succeed at lowering the number of water bottles used on campus.

This is a fair approach considering the ban has been touted as an effort to lower bottle consumption. 

An earnest consideration of the merit of the ban on these grounds would lead one to reject the ban. Though ultimately, I support the ban for reasons that the ban’s publicists have seemed to neglect to inform the public.

My support of the ban finds its roots in broader goals than just a short term decrease in bottle consumption.

By taking the effort to ban water bottle sales, the Queen’s administration is making a point about the way in which our community and our society consumes.

The ban has stimulated debate on the approaches Queen’s ought to take towards environmental initiatives. Even those who disagree with the measures have engaged in a discussion—if not the water bottles then what else?

Furthermore, the ban is a statement about the way in which the corporate world commoditizes water. Though marketing firms would want you to believe that the contents of the bottle originated from a pristine nature reserve, a significant portion of bottled water is nothing more than further-filtered tap water.

The popularity of bottled water has led to the corporatization of water sources. Water should be considered a public good rather than something which ought to be bought and sold.  

My point here is twofold, in that the water bottle ban is about more than just weighing the consumption of bottles.

Rather, it’s about promoting a public debate on how we might change our approach to consumption, as well as a discussion about the modes by which we allow corporations to commoditize a public good.

Banning the sale of bottled water is only the first step
Lindsay Kline, ArtSci ’11

As of September, 2012, you’d better have gotten yourself one of those fancy BPA-free, sustainable water bottles because Queen’s is banning the disposable plastic version.

While this initiative seeks to make the Queen’s campus more environmentally friendly, sustainable and simply encourage the use of on-campus water fountains, I question the hype surrounding this decision.

Much of the discourse surrounding this change has discussed whether the decision was right or wrong. For me, it was necessary. The commoditization of water is unnecessary, and students don’t need to be paying for water when a water fountain could be just around the corner.

Additionally, the mess of plastic water bottles has been evident within and outside of the Queen’s campus since my first year, which furthers my confusion as to why many students can’t chuck their finished bottle into their blue bins.

That aside, it was brought to my attention in this panel discussion that the issue is more focused on why the University didn’t ban all plastic bottles rather than just those for the consumption of water.

While this is perplexing, I still feel strongly that students looking for water will use their sustainable bottles rather than just switching to the carbonated drink next down the line in the vending machine.

I’m hopeful that students will find ways to incorporate water fountains into their route to campus, as well as finding a place in their backpacks for their re-usable water bottles.

As for the pop argument, I’m also hopeful that further down the line, Queen’s will consider banning those as well.

To further add to my wish list, I’m hoping that Queen’s administration will do more than ban plastic water bottles.

It would be nice to see the University taking more of a solid stance, and maintaining a leadership role in promoting alternatives for students to be more environmentally sustainable.

While banning water bottles is a good start, more changes should be implemented in the near future.

We need real action, not empty statements

James Simpson, ArtSci ’11

The current plan to limit water bottle sales on campus will not have any effect. Students will simply shift from water to something like flavoured water or juice.

I understand that people view this ban as an opportunity for the University to “make a statement.” But what worth is a statement if there is no meaning behind it?

Worse yet, the statement made will only teach students that an effective solution isn’t one that necessarily achieves anything, but one that makes everyone look good.

Sustainability initiatives should concentrate more on achieving results by changing student perceptions and behaviour. There are several major issues with bottled water in general, including the increasing commoditization of water.

If students were adequately informed of these issues, they would be likely to make carefully considered, intelligent choices.

Instead of focusing on banning water bottles, the AMS and other stakeholders should be looking for ways to make other options more attractive. Why not paint water fountains bright yellow?

Install water bottle filling stations that are convenient, visible and easily accessible? Why not ‘brand’ filling stations and reusable water bottles—make it cool!

Even better, why not look into banning all bottles, which would have an actual effect on sustainability and force a change in student attitudes and behaviour?

At the very least, a referendum question on limiting the sale of bottled water should have occurred.

I believe the result of this question would have supported the limit on sales—which would have provided an excellent opportunity for discussion of sustainability of a social norm.

Instead, all that is happening is students choices are being limited, without any expectation that behaviour will follow suit.

Future initiatives should focus more on achieving tangible and effective change rather than on making meaningless statements.

Bottled water is safe and responsible

Dan Osborne, ArtSci ’12

Campaigners for bottled water bans have their heart in the right place. They believe that plastic bottles are bad for the environment, and that if bottled water were banned, people would switch to more environmentally friendly options.

However, this has been proven both empirically and theoretically false in the short time that bottled water bans have been in place.

Research from AC Nielsen in October, 2008 shows that 95 per cent of the growth in the bottled water industry can be attributed to a shift in consumer preferences away from juice and pop beverages toward water.

A study for the Toronto District School Board showed in a week where bottled water was banned, the majority of students switched to other bottled drinks.

In a survey by Probe Research, 70 per cent of Canadians admitted that if bottled water were not available, they would consume a less healthy beverage instead.

It’s not just that we are unintentionally encouraging people to switch to less healthier options, but to less environmentally friendly options as well.

According to Industry Canada data, it takes 1.3 litres of water to make one litre of bottled water.

Compare that with pop, which takes between 10 and 250 litres of water to make a single litre of the beverage. Beer is similarly wasteful, taking 42 to 160 litres to produce a single litre.

In fact, the environmental impact of switching all consumption of beer to bottled water—a much less consumed beverage than either bottled water or pop—would have 138 times the impact of switching all bottled water drinkers to tap water.

In spite of the overwhelming statistics showing that banning bottled water doesn’t have a substantive impact on total bottle consumption, Queen’s University has gone ahead with a ban.

Some proponents of the ban have argued the expense of bottled water, relative to tap water, is ‘immoral.’

What they don’t seem to understand is that consumers of bottled water are not paying that much money for the water itself, but for the convenience of having water in a pre-packaged container instead.

All things said, proponents of bottled water bans should be encouraged to actually look at the real life substitutes for bottled water and the effect that banning the product actually has at the places it has been banned.

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