Friday, March 9, 2012

Ivy Colleges Shunning Bottled Water Jab at $22 Billion Industry by Andrew Theen

A forklift moves bails of plastic bottles at the San Francisco Recycling Center. More than 9 billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the U.S. last year. The industry is growing 5.4 percent annually.

More than 90 schools, among them Brown University and Harvard University are banning the sale or restricting the use of plastic water bottles, unnerving the $22 billion retail packaged-water industry in the U.S. The University of Vermont is the latest to join the movement, announcing in January it would stop sales early next year. 

Freshmen at colleges across the country are being greeted with stainless-steel bottles in their welcome packs and encouraged to use hydration stations where free, filtered water is available. Brown, which used to sell about 320,000 bottles of water a year in vending machines and campus stores, ended sales in dining halls in 2010. Harvard and Dartmouth College are installing hydration stations in new buildings to reduce trash.

“The product just doesn’t make common sense,” Sarah Alexander, 20, an environmental-studies major at Hanover, New Hampshire-based Dartmouth, said by e-mail. “Companies are taking something that is freely accessible to everyone on the Dartmouth campus, packaging it in a non-reusable container and then selling it under the pretense that it is somehow better than tap water.”

In response to the growing movement, the water industry released a video on YouTube last month poking fun at “Ban the Bottle,” an organization that advocates banning one-time-use plastic water bottles. The spot, which features “Star Wars”- like music and flashbacks of antiwar demonstrations, says bottled water is a safe, convenient product that is “one of the healthiest drinks on the shelf” and that its packaging is recyclable.

‘Serious Issues’

There “are really serious issues over here, and now you’re dealing with bottled water?” Joe Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, based in Alexandria, Virginia, said in a phone interview. While “there are anti- bottled-water groups going from campus to campus,” Doss said he doesn’t consider it “a big threat” at this point. 

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