Test-run of bottled water ban to commence this Monday

By Sean Ryan

MacCares, the Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society, in conjunction with the Sustainability Office and the Social Responsibility Committee, is launching what organizers call the “full-scale test run” of a policy they eventually hope the college will implement permanently: ending the sale of bottled water on campus.The test run will start on Feb. 21, and last until Mar. 13. The ban will mean that no bottled water will be sold at the Grille, the Highlander and the vending machines in the Leonard Center.

“The idea is to have a big educational campaign to make sure that people on campus understand some of the issues with bottled water and tapped water,” said Brianna Besch ’13, a member of MacCares who is helping to lead the initiative and Bottled Water Awareness Month.

The trial discontinuation is the result of concerns raised regarding the environmental and social effects of bottled water, including the waste it generates, the lack of oversight over its quality, and the commodification of what the United Nations has declared a human right. “You’re paying a lot more for something that you can almost get for free,” said Besch. “A lot of people think bottled water is healthier, but it actually has much more lax standards for quality. . . then you’ve got the waste component. It takes seventeen million barrels of oil per year to produce and transport bottled water [in the United States].”

The history of the policy change can be traced to the involvement of Clare Pillsbury ’12, a Student Sustainability Worker involved with the purchasing of bottled water.

“The Sustainability Office hadn’t had anyone work on that policy issue because there’s a lot of research that has to go into that, and so in January of last year, I just gathered research about bottled water and its implications, its social and economic and environmental effects,” Pillsbury said.

Once she showed her research to the Social Responsibility Committee, which “advises the College’s administration about practices and policies with significant implications for responsible institutional behavior,” according to the Civic Engagement Center’s website, however, they asked her to incorporate more educational aspects relating to the usage of bottled water before a policy banning it from campus was put in place.

The result is the entire series of events related to Bottled Water Awareness Month, including a series of posters, a talk by Elizabeth Royte, the author of “BottleMania,” and the screening of “Tapped,” a documentary about the bottled water industry. Some concerns have been raised regarding the trial discontinuation, especially in relation to families visiting Macalester, people at sports events, and guests for various events around campus. “One of the main issues involving guests was kind of the way [Macalester] presented itself,” related Pillsbury. “When there are important guests coming some people want to give them bottled water because it’s convenient and they can carry it around with them.”

Besch stressed, however, that a policy of discontinuation is not the same as an enforced ban.

“Departments can still purchase it for their events and students can still bring it on campus, so it’s not like we’re banishing it from Macalester,” she said.

Both Besch and Pillsbury hope that following implementation of the trial policy, evaluation of its effects will lead to a structural change in how the issue is approached on campus.

“I think that a committee that will hopefully be formed in the next couple of weeks are going to be the ones evaluating what’s going on and make recommendations to the SRC,” Besch said. “It will be a really a great step in making our campus more sustainable.