Campus bottled-water ban pays off

Posted on Sunday, April 19, 2015

By Brandon Gillet

Seven years ago, uOttawa student Jenna Dunsby asked, “How much does bottled water cost compared to the tap?” This simple question led to a campaign for bottled water-free zones on campus and, in 2010, a ban on the sale of bottled water.

Since then, the Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS) has been making an effort to install more drinking fountains, as well as reviewing water quality and accessibility, according to OCS manager Jonathan Rausseo. When reviewing campus water fountains, the OCS looks at five things: water temperature, water and fountain cleanliness, accessibility, pressure and the presence of a gooseneck spout, he says.

Originally meant to encourage fountain use with statistics, the bottled water project was expanded when Food Services and the SFUO suggested stopping the sale of bottled water altogether. The ban began shortly after a study found that bottled water carried one of the highest price markups on campus.

“We estimated approximately two dollars per litre of bottled water, as opposed to about two dollars per 1000 litres of fountain water,” says Rausseo.

The benefits were clear both in terms of cost to students and overall water freshness. City of Ottawa water is tested every five seconds and is filtered, cleaned and cooled up until the moment students hit the button on the fountain.

It didn’t take long for other departments to join the campaign. “Everyone held hands and jumped into the water together,” Rausseo joked. “Now there is no bottled water.”

The OCS is looking at new ways to make fountain drinking even more accessible and viable to students. For example, a multiple beverage dispenser could further reduce plastic bottles on campus.  Similar to those found at fast-food restaurants, you could use it to fill your cup with your beverage, be it water, soda or juice. Another idea that has been discussed is a re-usable cup machine.

“The cup would be similar to the cost of a bottle of water, for example,” says Rausseo. “Only instead of getting one bottle worth of water, you could re-fill it for free all year long.”

As students are free to buy beverages off campus, it is difficult to accurately assess just how much such an initiative could cut down on waste. However, Rausseo believes the reduction could be substantial, especially since coffee cups now represent the highest concentration of drink waste on campus, next to soda bottles.

Rausseo estimates between 250,000 and 400,000 less plastic bottles have been sold since the ban.

“One statistic I can be sure of is there are zero bottles of water sold on campus,” says Rausseo. “That’s a 100% reduction!”

Moving forward, the OCS will continue to find new projects aimed at helping students save money while improving their quality of life. Meanwhile, the bottled water-free campus initiative will establish a standard for accessible water fountains in every building, on every floor of campus.

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