Why Northwestern should stop selling bottled water
    Image by Megan Thielking / North by Northwestern
    Our school gives free water bottles during Wildcat Welcome, at Dance Marathon and at almost any event with free giveaways. Why go through so much effort, and yet continue selling bottled water?

    One in nine people around the world don't have access to clean drinking water, according to the UNICEF 2012 report on Drinking Water and Sanitation. While we may be fortunate enough to have access to water whenever we want, our actions have a direct impact on those who do not, and it is our responsibility as those with the means to affect change to make sure that number does not rise.

    Last Wednesday, a team of students from Pura Playa, SEED and ASG brought forth a resolution to make Northwestern a disposable bottled-water free campus, following in the footsteps of other campuses like Loyola University Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis, as well as Harvard and Brown.

    The resolution was the brainchild of "Northwestern Thinks Outside the Bottle," a campaign by Pura Playa committed to reducing plastic waste on campus. The campaign proposes not only a bottled water-free campus, but also upgraded water fountains throughout the university to make the transition "seamless."

    According to the Pacific Institute, bottled water requires three times its volume in water to be produced. Meaning, for every one liter of water a student purchases from a vending machine, at least three liters were wasted to put it there, resulting in 93 billion liters of water wasted each year in the United States alone. I can't be sure about the rest of the student body, but I, for one, want no part in contributing to the thirst of that ninth person. Each time you buy a disposable bottle of water, that's exactly what you are doing. This waste is not only irresponsible but also unacceptable on a campus where we have the privilege and means to eradicate it.

    And it's not like getting rid of disposable bottles of water from our vending machines will leave us high and (literally) dry. This past summer, Norris collaborated with Pura Playa, who sponsored the resolution, to install 6 new water-refilling stations. It is also the policy of Residential Services to upgrade water fountains to water-refilling stations either alongside required maintenance or with every building remodel. There are ample opportunities for students to quench their thirst without disposable bottled water.

    With this in mind, it is only rational to eradicate waste where it is unnecessary, such as plastic water bottles, and use these resources made available to us instead. And – let's be real – why pay $2 for a disposable, one-time use bottle of water when you can get endless amounts completely free? We're all ballin' on a budget, so not only is disposable bottled water environmentally wasteful, it's also financially stupid.

    Not only are there humanitarian concerns to be addressed by the proposed resolution, but there's also the significant negative environmental impact caused by the production, distribution and consumption of bottled water to be considered.

    The current recycling rate in the United States is a mere 29 percent of the total 31.2 billion liters of water purchased, meaning 900,000 tons of plastic will ultimately end up becoming part of the 315 billion pounds of plastic in the oceans today. The production of these bottles also require more than 17 million barrels of oil per year, not including energy used for transportation, according to the Pacific Institute and the Beverage Marketing Corporation.

    Were Northwestern to implement a bottled water-free policy on campus, it would conserve a staggering 107,507 gallons of water per year, according to the resolution with data gathered from Sodexo and CASE. It would also lower carbon dioxide emissions each year by 233,701 pounds.

    The continued sale of bottled water on Northwestern's campus is in direct conflict with the University's mission to "contribute to solutions and practices of sustainable environment," as stated in the University Strategic Plan in 2011. With Northwestern's "We Will" campaign citing that it will join the Northwestern community together to "solve society's most critical challenges," there is little to no justification for this carelessness to be perpetuated on Northwestern's campus. A disposable bottled water-free policy should be implemented as soon as possible.


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