Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Educational Bottle Ban: Academic Institutions Banning Plastic Water Bottles

The following is a guest blog by Hanna Lindstrom of the EducationalPsychology.net project.

“Ban the bottle” is the latest battle cry heard on over 90 college campuses across the world as the “green” movement expands to another hot topic that cannot be ignored by school administrators, principals and policymakers. Recently, environmental concerns and other issues regarding the sale of bottled water have caused many schools to consider banning plastic containers completely from their campuses, or at least restricting their sales. The bottles are a wasteful use of resources, many argue, and contribute to landfill crowding and oceanic debris on a massive scale.

Some changes have already taken place. Loyola University in Chicago handed out reusable water bottles to freshman students last fall in hopes that these could replace disposable plastic.  For the 2012-13 school year they plan to phase out the sale of plastic bottles on campus, including all cafeterias and affiliated retail outlets. Other schools, including Princeton and Dartmouth, are setting up hydration stations or water filling stations all over campus to discourage students from buying bottled water. At Harvard University, the Harvard Faculty Club is doing its part for the environment by replacing plastic bottles with glass bottles using filtered carbonated water from machines. Harvard estimates that these changes will eliminate many thousands of plastic and glass bottles put to waste each year. Both Cornell and Yale are working on bottled water alternatives on their campuses as well, and schools across the nation and the world are following suit.

The packaged-water business is a multi-million industry in the United States. It's estimated that Americans consume over 9 billion gallons of bottled water every year. As the numbers continue to increase, so do the questions and concerns about the sustainability of bottled water. Colleges around the world are taking a stand, citing three main reasons for switching to alternative water options.

1.  There is no evidence that bottled water is healthier than tap water. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that at least 20% of bottled water actually comes at least in part from tap water. In addition, tap water in the United States is well-regulated, but bottled water is not. The Food and Drug allows for a small amount of contamination from E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria in bottled water, while tap water is not allowed to have any bacteria or contaminants at all.

2.  The biggest concern regarding bottled water involves environmental issues. Though plastic bottles are recyclable, it's estimated that only 20% are actually recycled. The rest end up in landfills, taking decades if not centuries to breakdown. Those that do not make it to a garbage can can end up in waterways, streams, and oceans. According to some estimates, plastic water bottles can survive for a hundred years or more in a landfill or at sea.

3.  Bottled water is not a good investment for consumers. It costs more per ounce than gasoline and thousands more than tap water. Consumers spend billions of dollars on bottled water. The bottled-water manufacturers similarly spend a lot of money advertising a product they claim is “healthier than tap water” because it comes from “natural sources.” With rising college costs and growing staff and program cuts, many administrators find it hard to justify selling bottled water on their campuses.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the stakes, the bottled water industry is fighting back.  It has increased its advertising of bottled water on campuses and universities in the U.S. and abroad. More than ever, manufacturers are reaffirming that bottled water is healthier than tap water, more convenient, and that the plastic bottle is not harmful to the environment because it's recyclable.

While some critics believe that banning or restricting bottled water on campuses is not the answer, the debate continues. Students and administrators are increasingly turning away from industry claims, testing the waters themselves to look for facts. With no real proof that bottled water is healthier or safer than most tap water, with overflowing landfills, and with the high cost of bottled water, many colleges and universities are just saying “no” to bottled water. The risks are just too high and too much is at stake.


  1. COngratulation!I found this information really
    interesting and not only for the ultramarathon runner.
    Thank you for taking the time to pass on your experience!
    We hope you are enjoying being back and
    the admiration of those around you...even from the other side of the world!
    Take care, have fun,With love
    Dartmouth suits

  2. I believe it's about time to start reducing plastic waste. I'm sure not everyone will agree with me on this. But for us to ensure that everyone around the world will have access to clean and fresh drinking water, it must be done. water treatment plant