Mac considers campus bottled water ban

By April DeJarlais

The cost of bottled water averages $1.27 per gallon – maybe not a price that will break your bank.But the cost of tap water in St. Paul is 400 times cheaper at $0.003 per gallon, and often more regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency than bottled water is by the Food and Drug Administration.

So why are institutions, including Macalester, continuing to use bottled water? Clare Pillsbury ’11 decided to answer this question with a proposal for discontinuing the sale and use of bottled water on campus.

The proposal would eliminate bottled water sales from Bon Appetite’s Grille, Scotty’s in the Leonard Center, The Highlander, vending machines and catered events.

Pillsbury was asked to develop the policy beginning in January of last year, when the Sustainability Office decided to pursue decreasing bottled water on campus. Surveys gauging response to the proposed policy were sent to students, staff and faculty.

Students were generally in favor, with the consensus of “I don’t use bottled water, so sure, let’s get rid of it,” Pillsbury said.

Staff and faculty were also in favor, but more intent on finding accessible alternatives to the bottled water bought in bulk (Culligan water dispensers being the most prevalent example). Pillsbury met with facilities director Mark Dickinson to install more water bottle spigots on drinking fountains, and first years received reusable bottles during orientation this fall as encouragement to use tap water.

If approved by the Social Concerns Committee and President Rosenberg, the policy may be enacted next fall. This February is planned as “Bottled Water Month” by the Sustainability Office to raise awareness and educate the Macalester community on how to avoid bottled water.

The wider national debate has opened up to banning bottled water in public secondary schools, or in areas where the tap water is poor quality or highly chemically treated. Water can be treated at home through a reverse osmosis process (which bottling companies use on local water), but that can waste 10 gallons of water for every filtered gallon, reported the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Possible negative effects of the policy being implemented are the possibility of campus visitors without reusable bottles not having portable water available, and that consumers on campus would turn to unhealthier bottled options. Some propose alternatives like returning to glass bottles and eliminating more of the polluting energy used in transporting the water.

Pillsbury noted that city water is more regulated and “accountable to the public,” since water treatment facts must be published and accessible to users. Bottling companies, she said, do not have those requirements.

Many other campuses across the United States and worldwide have eliminated bottled water sales; most notably Washington University in St. Louis, Miss. was the first campus to do so. According to Washington University’s news site, St. Louis was rated in 2007 as having the cleanest tap water in the nation.

In 2009 Minneapolis was rated tenth and St. Paul seventeenth in a water quality survey of 100 American cities with populations over 250,000. Given Macalester’s proximity to quality water, the Sustainability Office hopes that bottled water can be phased out of campus use.

“I do hope this becomes policy, it would be good for us,” director of sustainability Suzanne Hansen said.