Takin’ it back
Chico State students adopt a national campaign to battle bottled water
Walk through nearly any city square, college campus or gym and you’ll see them. They may seem innocuous, but environmentalists say that something only about as large as a television remote control causes irreparable harm to the Earth.
A few years ago, bottled water appeared to be a trend that would never fade. More recently, however, a dependency on those small plastic containers and the resulting environmental impact has caused people to take notice and demand change.
Many at Chico State University are on board with this cause.
During the last academic school year, Corie Lopez, the recycling education coordinator for the Associated Students, began researching a project that would encourage sustainability among Chico State’s students. Her efforts led her to Take Back the Tap, a national campaign to promote tap-water consumption and reduce the use of bottled water.
“When you really start to look at the entire picture of bottled water, it makes you realize how bad it really is,” Lopez said. “I just wanted to educate people about that.”
Lopez, a public administration major, became passionate about the campaign when she started looking at the hard facts about the product.
According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of plastic water bottles are not recycled. To resonate this point with Chico State students, Lopez collected bottles from around the campus grounds, including trashcans. Within about a month, she had gathered an impressive “mountain” of bottles for a display at the campus’ Free Speech area.
While her efforts made a point and kept the containers out of the county landfill, Lopez notes that recycling isn’t the key to eliminating the environmental impacts created by the consumption of bottled water.
“It’s more than just recycling your bottles,” she said. “So much more waste is created in the process of manufacturing bottled water. To really solve the problem we need to focus on the total waste.”
For the U.S. market alone, the Container Recycling Institute estimates that it takes 1.5 million barrels of oil each year to make plastic water bottles. The institute calculates that this amount of oil is equivalent to fueling 100,000 automobiles or providing electricity to 250,000 homes for a year. Bottled water is also extremely expensive to purchase, considering a typical individual serving (about 12 ounces) costs more than $1.
Still, consumers continue to submerge themselves in the product. Released in March, statistics from the International Bottled Water Association for 2007 show an increase of U.S. bottled-water purchases with $11.7 billion in sales, a 7.8 percent jump from the previous year.
Robyn DiFalco, the recycling coordinator for the Associated Students, says most people who buy bottled water don’t understand the environmental consequences associated with the product.
“Most issues about bottled water are unknown and unseen by the average consumer,” said DiFalco, who sees Take Back the Tap as a vital component of Chico State’s sustainability efforts.
The organization, which is one component of Food and Water Watch, seeks to inform the public on the consequences of reaching for water in a bottle rather than from the tap. DiFalco and Lopez have printed informational handouts and hosted educational booths at campus events, trying to get the message across to the student population.
“We are always trying to promote education,” she said. “We want students to understand the ramifications of making certain choices. We want to help people make better and more sustainable choices.”
A Take Back the Tap Web site is helpful, revealing a number of myths associated with water. The No. 1 myth, according to www.takebackthetap.org, is that bottled water is better. Federal guidelines for municipal water are stricter than those for bottled water, in most cases making water from the tap as safe and healthful—or more so—than its bottled counterpart.
The organization also works with restaurants to encourage serving tap water. In the Bay Area, the campaign has caught on in trendy fine-dining restaurants, such as San Francisco’s Delfina, where owners Anne and Craig Stoll have made the pledge to go bottle-less.
At Chico State, students have had the chance to make their own statement during this week’s campus-wide elections (which end today, April 24) by voting on an advisory measure suggesting the AS replace bottles of water at retail locations with free purified water refill stations. The measure also asks students to consider whether the AS should request that the university install similar stations around campus.
Refilling stations would provide filtered water for students to use in their own refillable containers. As a result, DiFalco and Lopez think students would purchase less bottled water, helping cut down on the use of one-use containers and at the same time decreasing waste and other environmental impacts.
The measure is sponsored by a Chico State environmental class, and DiFalco and Lopez say the measure sends a strong message to the AS that sustainability is important to students and that a bottle-free campus is essential to becoming a more environmentally friendly educational institution.
Still, DiFalco emphasized the measure is simply a recommendation to investigate.
“It has no teeth,” she said. “It’s very realistic that the measure will get enough votes to pass and that’s great. But it’s not so realistic that the measure will automatically bring change.”
Meanwhile, DiFalco and her office have taken a different route, trying to speak with the AS administration and student officers. Since the student organization operates the locations where bottled water is sold, DiFalco said she and Lopez have been discussing the refill stations. At one point they explored the possibility of a system that would filter water throughout the Bell Memorial Union, but at a cost of more than $60,000 that option proved too costly.
Regardless of how the goal is accomplished, DiFalco said she hoped that Chico State will soon see fewer water bottles on its campus.
“We have been recognized as being a very sustainable campus,” she said. “We need to provide the infrastructure for that to continue.”