When a water bottle is carelessly tossed into a landfill and sets in the ground, its plastic decomposes within 1,000 years, seeping chemicals into the earth. If the plastic is burned, toxic fumes are released into the air. One out of five bottles is actually recycled in the United States, leaving 80 percent of all plastic bottles sitting in the landfill, waiting to decompose.
Using these statistics as justification, Belmont University ended bottled water sales on campus on May 16, 2009.
“Just in dining services, 4,500 bottles of water we sold last September, we didn’t sell this September,” said Kyle Grover, the general manager for Sodexo food services at Belmont.
Approximately 92,000 bottles were sold in the 2008-2009 school year, including bottled Pepsi products as well as Naked juice and Lipton green tea to name a few. By eliminating the purchase of bottled water, plastic was reduced by 1/3, approximately 31,000 bottles overall.
Belmont President Bob Fisher signed the Talloires Declaration of the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future. The USLF promotes environmental responsibility on campus as well as instilling that responsibility in the students by increasing awareness about sustainability. Judy Skeen, a religion professor at Belmont, pushed for the removal of bottled water.
And there’s the economic issue for struggling students. The price for one bottled water is $1. If a student bought a bottle of water every week for a year, they would spend $52. By eliminating the plastic water bottles, Belmont wants to save student’s money and even their wellbeing.
“Why pay for something you can get for free?” said Grover.
Potential health risks relating to plastic bottles have called their safety into question. Scientific tests show that some bottles leak BPA, a building block for making plastic, into the drinking water, making them potentially unsafe.
PET bottles, the kind of plastic used to make water bottles, can possibly leak chemicals that can interfere with reproductive systems of humans and estrogen levels, according to a Discovery News article.
Belmont’s administration argues that eliminating water bottles has made the campus “greener” and potentially healthier. Filtered water stations, or hydration stations, were placed in every dining facility: the cafeteria, Curb Café, Corner Court, and What’s Bruin? Students are encouraged to buy reusable plastic water bottles. While walking to class or hanging around campus, they can fill their water bottles at the designated hydration station areas.
When asked if the students were involved in the decision-making process, Grover said he “couldn’t give a good answer.”
Students, though, are giving an answer; they are questioning why Belmont decided to take away water bottles and not other environmentally unfriendly things.
Savannah Packard, a junior journalism major, questioned why bottled water was singled out among the other ways Belmont could be environmentally friendly.
“Don’t get me wrong. Stopping the consumption of water bottles is a good thing, but in the grand scheme of things, is that the best Belmont can do?” Packard said. “Why not cut back on water used on the grounds, or force the teachers to go online for all syllabi? Why not install better light bulbs and those on a self-timer? To me, the loss of water bottles is an inconvenience.”
Just because Belmont doesn’t sell water, she said, doesn’t mean she can’t go to Kroger or Bongo to buy bottled water, instead of buying the $3 water bottles Belmont sells.
Amanda Buckner, a sophomore environmental studies major, said she was glad Belmont was doing something to be environmentally friendly, but said there are still a lot of plastic bottles. She mentioned the plastic bags used for the cafeteria’s Take 4, a meal-on-the-go for students who have classes during the scheduled dining times as an example.
“It’s a good effort, it’s a good idea, a revolutionary idea, but they didn’t get the students on board,” Buckner said. “They didn’t ask the students if this was okay. They were like, ‘We’re gonna do this and you have to deal with it.’”
Buckner said the transition from bottled water to filtered stations would have been easier had Belmont asked students what they thought. She suggested Belmont could have handed out a survey asking students what they thought about the administration getting rid of bottled water.
“Belmont could still make the executive decision, but it’s to give the students an opportunity to agree or decline,” Buckner said.
Because of the way Belmont handled the bottled water, she claims it turns students off to helping the environment. Students, she said, will now think they have to suffer.
“It directly affects [students] because I don’t see faculty or staff or visitors coming into Corner Court to buy bottled water. It’s the students who are affected,” Buckner said. “The fact that Belmont went cold turkey, it forces students to wake up and look at their plastic consumption.”
Students are complaining they weren’t informed about the decision to go ‘cold turkey’ with bottled water. Anna-Margarita Queza said she walked into one of her classes and her friend mentioned Belmont was getting rid of plastic water bottles. That was how she learned of Belmont’s decision.
“I don’t think it was communicated enough to say we had a play in the decision-making process,” Queza said.
With the removal of bottled water, Belmont is closer to its goal of being environmentally friendly. The administration is continuing to learn more about how to create a sustainable, environmentally-friendly campus. They are still investigating BPA-free water and how they can serve healthier, cleaner water to Belmont students.
“There’s just so much that can be done… [which] Belmont could do, but this was the first step in being environmentally friendly,” Buckner said.