Students lead effort to ban plastic water bottle sales on campus
If you are looking to purchase a bottle of water at Seattle University, you won’t find one in vending machines or at the SU Bookstore. At the start of the academic year this past fall, the university banned the availability and sale of bottled water in response to a campaign initiated by SU students. The university is the first higher education institution in Washington state to end the sale of plastic bottled water campus-wide.
The move to ban plastic bottled water on campus began more than three years ago. Students were inspired by Professor Gary Chamberlain and his crusade against what he calls “the bottled water phenomenon.” A total of 3,700 bottles of water were sold on campus during the last academic year.
In 2008, one of Chamberlain’s students, Nick McCarvel, raised the issue with his classmates in the Ignatian Honorary Leadership Society, and student Gretchenrae Callanta joined him in reaching out to the university. They met with Ron Smith, vice president for finance and business affairs, who was receptive to their proposal, and advised them to start by educating the campus community on why bottled water should be eliminated.
Over the next two years, the students’ effort picked up steam. After McCarvel and Callanta graduated, other student leaders took up the cause and worked persistently to keep the issue at the forefront.
One of these students, Spencer Black, co-founded the student club Natural Leaders for Social Justice.
“The bottled water issue specifically caught my attention because there are so many social justice issues involved,” says Black, who cites concerns over the privatization and distribution of water, the natural resources required to manufacture plastic bottles and the waste that often accompanies purchased bottles of water.
The campaign received a big boost last year when Black secured the support of Jesse David, then-president of the Associated Students of Seattle University. Before long the association passed a resolution to endorse the students’ proposal for going bottle-free.
Significant support for the effort also came from SU staff members and academic departments. Sustainability Manager Karen Price took the lead in lining up commitments from her colleagues across campus. SU’s food service provider, Bon Appétit, was amenable to the change. So was Athletics, which agreed to stop selling bottled water at their concession stands.
Last June the Academic Assembly approved the students’ proposal, and the university leadership team followed. Smith handled the negotiations with Pepsi, which sold the bottled water on campus as part of its contract with the university.
Price was proactive in preparing the university as a bottle-free campus; there are 31 water fountains across campus with bottle fillers. She also worked with SU Bookstore Manager Bob Spencer to make it possible for the campus community to purchase a reusable stainless steel water bottle at a discount. In keeping with SU’s commitment to social justice, the reusable bottles are from Think Outside the Bottle, a program working to protect public water systems.
“I want to applaud the students who have really pushed this issue over the past three years,” says Chamberlain.
Black, for his part, is gratified by the result that he was so instrumental in bringing about: “This is a beautiful and empowering message that Seattle University is now a part of. Our generation is making a statement and starting a new era of environmental economics. This decision will educate and inspire students for years to come.”