February 8, 2011

Bottle racket

Current efforts to reduce bottled water on campus should go even further

Tomorrow, Student Government’s College Council will vote on a resolution advocating the gradual elimination of bottled water from campus. The motion, which is the result of continued protest on the part of UChicago Students Against Bottled Water, a sub-group of Green Campus Initiative (GCI), will be one more step in an ongoing and widespread effort to brand bottled water as an excessive, inefficient, and unnecessary luxury.

Most of those charges are accurate, and it’s commendable that such an issue has appeared on the Student Government (SG) agenda, but efforts to decrease the campus’s reliance on bottled water should extend far beyond SG. Specifically, a policy should be instituted that bans the distribution of bottled water at University and department events. Especially on campus, coolers of tap water could easily replace pallets of Aquafina. Filtered water fountains are present in every building. It’s grotesquely wasteful to hand out thousands of bottles of water when water is already abundantly available elsewhere, and when it can be provided in cheaper and more environmentally conscious ways.

This issue won’t be resolved with a few preliminary restrictions. Student-run shops like Hallowed Grounds and Cobb Coffee Shop sell thousands of bottles each year. Aramark, while running dining halls, Hutch, Bart Mart, and Midway Market, sells even more. All for a product that has been proven to be largely the same as the filtered tap water that comes out of most campus water fountains. To convince campus vendors to clear bottled water from their shelves, displays of broad student opposition will likely be necessary. A student referendum, similar to last spring’s referendum on the sexual assault policy, would be one way to demonstrate how many of us object to the continued sale of bottled water.

There certainly isn’t a dearth of reasons to object: The petition circulated by UChicago Students Against Bottled Water offers a number of reasons for the campaign, among them that, “40 percent of bottled water in the U.S. is sourced from public tap water…bottle water is expensive and tap water is free on the University of Chicago campus...[and] the University of Chicago could be more economically and environmentally responsible in its water use.”

All these facts emphasize just how inefficient purchasing and consuming bottled water is, and students should take note. The main characteristic that separates it from other wasteful products, such as cans and bottles of soda, is that with water there is a cheap and readily available alternative. The various “tap water challenges” at campus wellness fairs and GCI events regularly prove that the average UChicago student can’t tell the difference between water from the fountain and water imported from Fiji.

To really promote a more efficient, environmentally-conscious campus, SG and GCI cannot be the only ones making an effort. Students across the board should be more assertive in endorsing their beliefs, and joining the push against bottled water is one way to start.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.