The future of bottled water on the River Campus is up for debate. Team Green, a group of five undergraduate students — Manager and senior Rachel Goldstein, senior Colleen McHale, junior Melissa Kullman, junior Oranich Aimcharoen, and sophomore Javier Dominguez — is leading a campaign called Ban the Bottle in an effort to encourage the use of reusable bottles and, as a long-term goal, ban bottled water from the River Campus.
Why now? UR Dining Services is due to renegotiate its contract with Coca Cola within the next few years, meaning that a bottled water ban can be considered as a serious possibility, according to Goldstein.
A final decision will not be made until at least the 2014-15 academic year, if not later. For now, the campaign is all about getting feedback to determine the best course of action.
“It’s hard to say what we’ll ultimately do,” said Goldstein, noting that “it’s not set in stone that yes, we will ban the bottle.”
A lot depends on how much support the movement garners.
Director of Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations Cam Shauf has a similar perspective about the campaign. He explained that he does not have a specific end result in mind, but there are enough elements of the campaign worth talking about that it “lends itself well to serious conversation.”
Shauf also noted the danger of “mistaking loud voices for many voices,” explaining that he doesn’t want to move too fast
one direction or the other because a hasty decision could negatively impact customer service.
“If we had overwhelming support from our customer base that it’s something we should do, then that may outweigh a lot of the negatives because, after all, one of the things that we’re here for is our customer base,” Schauf said.
Team Green began the Ban the Bottle campaign in fall 2011.
The ban, if it succeeds, would eliminate the sale of all regular bottled water (not including flavored water or any other bottled drinks) on the River Campus.
At a Dining Committee meting last semester, campaign members discussed the proposal. Most recently, on Feb. 7, Team Green organized a panel to give students a chance to learn about the campaign and ask questions in an ongoing effort to introduce the campaign to the wider campus community.
The panel, attended by a little over a dozen students, was made up of Schauf, Coca Cola representative Enid Cardinal, senior sustainability advisor at Rochester Institute of Technology Harriet Tome, Recycling Coordinator Amy Kadrie, Director of Wilson Commons Laura Ballou, and Earth and Environmental Sciences Lecturer Karen Berger.
The group has plans to distribute a campus-wide survey, as well as continue to speak with other universities that have banned, or are considering banning, bottled water. At the end of the current academic year, they will compile the information they have collected thus far and decide how to proceed in the fall.
Although there are alternatives to an overall ban, such as only banning bottled water from select locations, Goldstein noted that the current overall consensus among Team Green is to either go all in or all out, but that there is still time to consider other options.
Bottled water sales for the entire University totaled 243,888 bottles, at a net profit of $274,557 for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, according to Schauf. He explained that banning bottled water on the River Campus would result in a “substantial” financial loss for the University but that there are ways to reduce this amount or to adjust the budget to limit the impact.
Some — though hardly all — sales could be recouped through vending if customers decide to simply buy another product. Others could be replaced by selling other products in place of bottled water, whether they are beverage-related or not. Student meal plans would not be affected.
Two other concerns that have been brought up, according to Schauf, are whether banning bottled water would have a large enough environmental impact to be worth the effort and whether it is better to simply increase education and let customers make their own decisions. He also noted that there is a lack of empirical evidence about other schools that have banned bottled water.
Other concerns include what would replace bottled water at campus-wide events such as Dandelion Day or Winterfest Weekend, how guests to the River Campus would be accommodated, and whether a lack of bottled water would increase sales of more unhealthy options.
On the flip side, Goldstein noted that banning bottled water could result in an economic benefit for students, given that they may save money by using a reusable water bottle. She also explained that the campaign would do its part to reduce waste, however small the impact.
“Though it may not seem like an individual perk, it is as a whole because by reducing waste, we are ultimately creating a cleaner environment, which in turn is better for everyone,” Goldstein said.
Student opinion is varied, according to Goldstein. Schauf noted that support for or against the campaign isn’t overwhelming right now, but the goal is to understand the portion of the River Campus community that has not yet voiced an opinion.
Senior Alanna Scheinerman, who attended the Feb. 7 panel, supports the campaign.
“I think it’s definitely something the University should consider and implement,” she said, adding that concerns about convenience shouldn’t be a priority.
Senior Mike Dymond, who also attended the panel, took a different approach.
“I am very concerned when the notion is that banning things is the first step,” he said. He also explained that he is not in favor of an idea that is imposed rather than encouraged.
Goldstein remains confident in the campaign.
“I think we could be successful in banning bottled water,” she said, adding that even if the campaign does not succeed the effort will, in the very least, get people talking.
Schauf is a little more cautious.
“At this point in time, I don’t see an across-the-board ban being something that’s going to happen in the next year or two,” he said.
He cited the fact that there are still “a lot of factors” to look into before a decision is made.
“A ban is something you don’t want to do if you think your next step six months or a year later is to lift the ban,” he said.
Goldin is a member of the class of 2013.