University News

Bottled options don’t hold water, says panel

Contributing Writer
Monday, November 8, 2010

“We have to keep the campus hydrated and have appropriate alternatives in place,” said Beyond the Bottle steering committee member Jason Harris ‘10.5 at last Friday’s Water Week panel, “Why No More Bottled Water?”

The panel, which discussed the challenges of making the campus bottle-free, concluded the week-long event — which encouraged students to sign a pledge to drink only tap water, showcased a sculpture of water bottles on the Main Green and screened the documentary “Tapped.”

The purpose of the week was to raise awareness about the environmental, health and social issues involved with the consumption of bottled water, according to Harris, a former Herald sports editor.

“We wanted to really hit hard and make a very visible effort, and this seemed like the appropriate time,” he said.

Friday’s panel included representatives from Brown Dining Services, the Department of Facilities Management and Corporate Accountability International’s Think Outside the Bottle campaign.

“Access to water is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced,” said John Stewart, national organizer for the campaign. “Bottled water companies continue to turn water, which is a public good, into a commodity, undermining the public water system, and this is dangerous for the future of tap water. We need to send a clear message about society’s priorities.”

The panelists discussed some of the dangers of the increased consumption of bottled water, such as the effect on towns where bottled water companies extract water. The local population is sometimes left without direct access to water and is forced to buy it from the bottled water companies themselves, they said.

But the panelists agreed that there remain challenges to eliminating bottled water at Brown.

“We need to balance the needs and desires of the community with the mandate of moving this program forward,” said Gretchen Willis, director of Brown Dining Services. “We need to remove water bottles in a systematic way without removing the ability of students on campus to hydrate themselves.”

  Christopher Powell, director of sustainable energy and environmental initiatives, said there are “obstacles” to eliminating bottled water on campus.

“We don’t want students buying more soda because there is no water,” Powell said.

Stewart, who stressed the superiority of tap water, compared the slow disappearance of public water fountains to that of phone booths.

“There is a perception that bottled water is better, safer and cleaner, which is a result of bottled water companies disparaging the alternative to get people to buy a product that is otherwise free,” Stewart said.

The panel discussion ended with an eight-minute video titled “The Story of Bottled Water,” which stressed the cheaper cost, higher quality and decreased environmental impact of tap water and encouraged viewers to “take back the tap” and “invest in public water infrastructure.”

The organizers of the national Think Outside the Bottle Campaign plan to show this video to Congress in January. The organization works with over 100 student groups like Beyond the Bottle across the country, educating students about the issues with bottled water and giving the administration support to restrict water bottles, Stewart said.

“In general, the week was a success,” said Ari Rubenstein ’11, member of the Beyond the Bottle steering committee, though he said the “Tapped” screening had low turnout because it competed with the results of Tuesday’s election.

Beyond the Bottle will continue to have smaller events to encourage the use of tap water throughout the year, he said. So far, the group has worked with Dining Services to get more water fountains around campus and to distribute a reusable water bottle to first-year students in the beginning of the year.

“It’s a great time to get involved,” Rubenstein said.

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