The average American spends over $100 per year on bottled water. Only 23% of those bottles are ever recycled — the rest take centuries to decompose and can release toxic chemicals into the environment. Manufacturing plastic water bottles uses millions of barrels of oil and making a single water bottle requires three times the amount of water needed to fill it. They end up in our landfills, on our beaches and littered throughout our neighborhoods.
Despite the waste and pollution single-use water bottles cause, UT continues to sell hundreds in on-campus stores and cafes. UT should take additional steps to encourage students to use environmentally friendly alternatives.
Over 84 colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada, England and New Zealand have banned single-use water bottles or have a campaign in place to do so. However, Neil Kaufman, sustainability coordinator for University Housing and Dining, said banning water bottles does not always decrease waste.
“Obviously single-use plastic water bottles aren’t ideal,” Kaufman said. “But the banning of them has in many cases shown to actually increase waste because if somebody doesn’t buy a single-use plastic water bottle they’ll buy a single-use plastic Coca-Cola bottle. And now they have the calories and they have waste.”
There are still other ways for the University to discourage plastic water bottle use, though.
UT could sell more cheap, reusable water bottles in on-campus stores and cafes. There are some available for purchase, but in places like Jester City Market, they are tucked behind the register and difficult to find. In contrast, there are multiple stands filled with single-use water bottles that are obvious and easily accessible.
A University of Washington study found that the standard cost of reusable bottles bought in bulk is $2.45. UT could sell these for a small markup and display them prominently in stores — students may then be encouraged to purchase a reusable bottle instead.
“I actively avoid buying single-use ones because of their negative impact on the environment,” said Claire Eckardt, a human development and family sciences freshman. “I almost always have my Hydro Flask on me. Using my Hydro Flask is an easy way to hold myself accountable to not buy plastic products.”
Increasing the availability of cheap, reusable water bottles for purchase will encourage more students to avoid disposable plastic bottles. UT organizations and departments should also consider handing out more reusable water bottles to students for both promotion and sustainability.
However, not all students want to carry around water with them. For those students, UT could encourage them to use fountain drink cups rather than purchasing a single-use water bottle.
“The fountain drink cups, the lids and the straws are all compostable,” Kaufman said. “That gets sent to a local composting company and after almost a year that gets turned into compost that they sell.”
By using compostable cups, students can save money and contribute to a healthier local ecosystem. It will also decrease the demand for single-use plastic bottles, which may cause the University to sell fewer.
UT could even place a sign over the refrigerators to remind students of the impact of water bottle use. It isn’t hard to find a water fountain on campus, and thirsty students don’t always need to purchase a bottle. A simple reminder can get students thinking about their environmental impact and deter them from buying disposable plastics.
UT stores sell hundreds of disposable water bottles — but that doesn’t mean students need to purchase them. The University should do more to deter students from using single-use bottles and encourage environmentally friendly, reusable alternatives.
Springs is a government freshman from Dallas.