Last month, Washington University in St. Louis took a major step to reduce the nation’s environmental footprint by implementing a campus wide ban on the sale of water bottles. UR raised its own green bar last year by purchasing wind energy credits and hiring a new sustainability director. Though these achievements are notable, a ban on bottled water would keep this momentum alive, and UR would join peer institutions, such as Penn State University, that are considering this move to becoming a green leader.
Few disagree that plastic bottles are wasteful when the perfectly adequate substitute, tap water, exists. Unrecycled bottles leech chemicals into landfills, and even recycled bottles cannot recover the environmental cost of producing and transporting plastics.
Environmentally conscious citizens already choose to refill their reusable water bottles. If UR expanded what now is an individual effort to an institutional scale where over 25,000 reside or work, the results would be consequential.
Unlike Wash U’s ‘top-down” approach of implementing the ban at dining centers and vending machines, the new sustainability office and Dining Services cannot implement a ban without broad student support. An initiative of this nature requires student groups and the Students’ Association to approach administrators in order to create a strategy of phasing out water bottle availability.
At the beginning of the academic year, undergraduates arrived to find low-wattage light bulbs in their rooms. Next year, the University should consider giving away reusable, stainless steel water bottles as another step toward a sustainable campus.
UR can take comfort in that it would not be alone; Wash U recently opened a discussion with other universities about phasing out the sale of water bottles a worthwhile initiative.