All the water, none of the plastic

Photo: istockphoto.com/Stephanie DeLay

March 22 was World Water Day and throughout Canada university students are pushing back against water bottles and the companies that are commercializing this precious resource to create water bottle free zones.

Water is on the biggest commercial products on the market today. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle, and Danone all make major profits from selling bottled water. The results have been an explosion on water bottles that are polluting the earth.

Across Canada
In fifteen different schools from Memorial University in Newfoundland to Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, students are creating zones where organizations or businesses promise not to give or sell water contained within a plastic bottle. The desire to rid campuses of water bottles is motivated by environmental concerns as well as social justice worries.

Inside the bottle
"Start with production, bottles are actually made out of crude oil and natural gas," said Andrea Harden, an Inside the Bottle campaigner with the Polaris Institute. "Then there is the transportation across a city, a province, a country, or even an entire continent, that has a significant greenhouse gas impact. Plus, what happens once the water is consumed? The bottles are either recycled or thrown in the garbage, and I have seen a lot of bottles in garbages or washed up on shores. These are serious environmental impacts when we have tap water and we can consume it for free and it is sustainable."

Guelph leads the way
One of the universities leading the charge to kick plastic bottles off campuses is the University of Guelph, Ontario. There the Guelph Students for Environmental Change (GSEC) have campaigned student groups and faculties to create policies promising to never use bottled water in their events.

So far, GSEC has gotten a lot of support, with everyone from the Muslim Student Association to the University of Guelph Campus Radio Station promising to stop using water bottles.

Changing habits
Silvie Fojtik, a fourth year student in water resource management and leader in the GSEC "Tap-In" program, is hoping to even bring the water bottle free message to September's First Year Orientation Week by renting a large water tank and parking it in a central location on campus. That way any thirsty first year student could just wander to the tap with their frosh week mug and quench their thirst.

Fojtik admits that the program being launched this week with some family friendly rallies, public lectures, and even a taste testing, has to overcome some major obstacles such as making sure there are public water fountains and that businesses can still be profitable without water bottle revenue.

Image problems
One of the major hurdles is an image problem. People still equate bottled water with something healthy.

"One of the major reasons we get organizations to pledge is to remove exposure of bottled water, which is everywhere," said Fojtik. "If we can get professional events and groups on campus to show that they are comfortable using jugs and glasses, then it could disturb that image of bottled water being the only acceptable way of drinking water."

So, this Sunday, why not drink a toast to World Water Day by raising a glass of tap water, not a bottle.