In an effort to combat the amount of waste produced from disposable water bottles, Minnesota schools are joining a national movement to ban the bottles from campuses. But don’t expect University vending machines to lose them any time soon.
College of St. Benedict recently became the first school in Minnesota to ban the sale and purchase of bottled water on their campus. That means no bottled water in vending machines, at sporting events or any other campus venue.
“I’ve been mentioning it under my breath for a long time,” said Dana Donatucci, University of Minnesota recycling supervisor. “I think it would have a beneficial impact on the image of the University because we’re making the choice for environmental reasons.”
The waste resulting from the bottles isn’t the only concern. There are also the expenses that go along with them to consider.
“Less bottles sold means less bottles to remove, less bottles to pick up and less cost for us,” Donatucci said.
For many students, grabbing a disposable water bottle at an on-campus restaurant or vending machine is easy.
“It’s about convenience,” PSEO student Kendall Buckley said. “I use [a water bottle] for a couple of days and then I either lose it or I throw it away because that’s what you do with water bottles.”
If disposable water bottles were banned on campus, students might reach for soft drinks instead.
According to contract administrator Leslie Bowman, there are 240 beverage vending machines on campus and some need to be filled more than once a day.
Banning bottled water at the University of Minnesota might be a bit more challenging than at other colleges because of its contract with Coca-Cola.
Since the “Exclusive Beverage and Sponsorship Agreement” contract with Coca-Cola, the University deals exclusively with the company. The contract states that the University is prohibited from "purchasing, selling, distributing, dispensing (for free, sampling, or otherwise), vending, or otherwise serving" any beverage product (including Pepsi) that competes with Coke anywhere on the Twin Cities Campus.”
“There is specific language [within the contract] about major changes with products and bottled water is one of them,” Bowman said.
If support for a ban gains momentum on campus “there would have to be a major discussion and probably an amendment to the contract,” she said.
The contract has an estimated value to the University of $38 million and is one of the largest contracts across the nation.
“I think if we really want to address the issue we need to have more [water refilling] stations on campus,” Donatucci said. “Some schools have one per building.”
St. Benedict has installed 31 "hydration stations" on its St. Joseph campus, with at least one in each building. While both Bemidji State University and the University of Minnesota’s Morris campus decided against the ban, they are working to promote tap water. Morris has recently installed filters to improve the taste of their tap water, and Bemidji gives new students reusable water bottles.
The University has similar practices of its own. Reusable bottles are given away during campus events and water bottle refilling stations can be found at various locations around campus.
“I think a lot of people are using reusable [water bottles] already,” Carlson School of Management senior Lacey Bartosh said. “Lots of things have improved since I first started.”
Currently all the plastic that is recycled on the Twin Cities campus is sold by Waste Management to plastic recyclers in the Twin Cities area.
“In my opinion the coordinate campuses don’t have has much access to strong recycling programs like the Twin Cities,” Bowman said.