In an effort to confront the environmental and ethical implications of bottled water, Brandon University has become the latest Canadian university to eliminate the sale and distribution of bottled water on campus.
“Brandon University is only the third university in Canada to eliminate bottled water. We would like to see other organizations in our community and province accept our challenge to do the same,” said Stephen Montague, president of the Brandon University Students’ Union in Brandon, Man..
Brandon, along with Memorial University and the University of Winnipeg, are the only universities in Canada to have banned bottled water on campus.
The University of Winnipeg was the first Canadian school to ban bottled water after a successful student referendum in March 2009, which saw three-quarters of voters’ support the ban.
“The mandate of the university is to be very green, to be very sustainable,” said Jason Syvixay, University of Winnipeg Students’ Association president. “It was just a natural step to eliminate bottled water.”
“We wanted to eliminate bottled water because water is a basic human right. We shouldn’t have to pay for water when we don’t have enough money to pay for tuition in the first place,” said Syvixay.
At all three universities, the move to eliminate bottled water on campus was initiated by the students’ union along with various environmental coalition groups.
“Our council took a look at the environmental and ethical impacts of bottled water and decided that this would be a good initiative to push for on our campus,” said Montague.
“We took a motion to our annual general meeting. Our membership agreed, and so did the university administration.”
According to Montague, in eliminating bottled water at Brandon University, current water fountains will be upgraded and bottle-filling taps will be installed. As well, new signage will be installed to raise awareness of the location of water fountains and bottle-filling stations on campus.
“All first-year students are given a reusable water bottle from BUSU in partnership with the Alumni Association. We distribute about 750 reusable bottles free of charge to students each year,” said Montague.
In addition, Montague said that reusable bottles are also available for purchase at the BUSU offices for $2.50.
“So, not much more than a single-use bottled water would have cost.”
The Canadian Federation of Students works with member students’ unions across the country to push institutions into becoming bottled water-free, according to National Deputy Chairperson Noah Stewart.
“Our position is that the environmental, economic, health and social impacts of bottled water are quite severe,” said Stewart.
“It’s one of these situations where [ . . . ] we have institutions depending more and more on proceeds from the sale of bottled water. What we’ve seen happen is that the public water infrastructure of drinking fountains [ . . . ] actually diminishes, goes under utilized and into disrepair.”
At Memorial University of Newfoundland, the elimination process is “progressive and systematic,” said Becky Winsor, MUN Students’ Union executive director of campaigns. There, she said, the biggest challenge of eliminating bottled water is educating the university population about the benefits of tap water instead of bottled water.
“By educating students about the harmful effects of bottled water, we are hoping to decrease the sale and distribution of bottled water on campus,” said Winsor.
“Ultimately, it is their decision to purchase bottled water, but we believe that if they are more aware of the impact their purchases have, they are more likely to make more informed decisions.”
At the University of Winnipeg, Syvixay says that he receives calls almost daily from universities across the country interested in eliminating bottled water on campus.
Having received calls from places as far away as Australia, Syvixay said, “It’s not only Canada, but those outside of Canada who are interested as well.”
Students at the University of Manitoba will have to wait until their campus is bottled water free.
Sid Rashid, University of Manitoba Students’ Union president said that he is in favour of progressive elimination of bottled water, beginning with the improvement of drinking water infrastructure on campus.
Rashid said his students’ union is currently working with the administration to discuss the elimination of bottled water on campus.
“It’s very early on in the game, but we’re taking a lot of the initial steps, which is important.”