Above: Taryn Wilkinson, environmental project coordinator, speaks at Niagara Day.
Niagara College has tapped into a new sustainability initiative through a new ban on the sale of plastic water bottles on campus.
The announcement was met with cheers and applause from staff and faculty when it was first announced on Niagara Day Aug. 29. The initiative originally stemmed from staff recommendations made at NC’s Day of Reflection in May 2012 aimed at boosting the College’s sustainability efforts.
“There was an overwhelming response from staff and faculty to ban the sale of bottled water on campus,” said Taryn Wilkinson, the College’s environmental project coordinator.
Wilkinson said it is not a waste issue, but a water issue.
“Banning bottled water supports the notion that everyone has the right – not the privilege – to clean drinking water, and it should not be sold as a commodity.”
After it was recommended by NC’s Sustainability Committee and approved by its executive team in July, the College began preparing for the initiative. Twenty five new hydration stations and retrofits to fountains are being installed to accommodate for this . Eight water spout attachments were also installed at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus.
“If we are banning the sale of bottled water, it was important to provide an alternative for our staff and students,” said Teresa Quinlin, vice-president, Corporate Services. “Banning bottled water was a big step for us, but it is important to demonstrate that we are serious about sustainability.”
The ban comes into effect in September to be followed by a bottled water reduction campaign during the 2012 academic year. The College’s sustainability ambassadors will help educate staff and students with blind taste tests, movie showings and information sessions about bottled water and reasons for the ban.
Are we the only ones?
Think we’re the first public institution to ban the sale of bottled water? Think again! There are many municipalities, cities, school boards and higher education institutions that have already done it, including the city of Niagara Falls, City of St. Catharines, City of Thorold, and the City of Welland, Queens University, Flemming College and the University of Toronto. Click here for a list of other municipalities and institutions that have banned the sale of bottled water.
Think the bottled water you are drinking is superior in quality to our municipal drinking water? Would you be surprised to know that most bottled water is in fact municipally sourced? Most bottles will tell you where the water comes from; if it says municipally sourced, you are simply drinking tap water. Does your bottled water come from a naturally spring fed source? Would you be surprised to know bottled water is regulated as a food product under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency? According to the Polaris Institute, this means water bottling plants are inspected on average only once every three years.
Are you still not sure about the quality of our tap water? Well, Ontario has some of the most stringent drinking water regulations in the world. In 2002, the Safe Drinking Water Act was developed which requires rigorous compliance for all municipal drinking water systems. Click here to learn more about the safety of our drinking water here in Ontario!
You can also look at the water quality reports for Niagara. Each year every municipality must publish annual reports on the quality of the drinking water. The City of Welland information can be found on the City of Welland Drinking Water Quality Assurance Program website. The City of Niagara-on-the-Lake can be found on the Water & Wastewater section of the city’s website.
While, many believe the reason for banning bottled water is to reduce the plastic bottles being consumed that is not the case for Niagara College. Banning bottled water has the obvious benefit of reducing plastic bottles, but Niagara College firmly believes everyone has the right (not privilege) to clean drinking water and it should not be sold as a commodity.
There is one other aspect of waste when discussing bottled water; waste water. It takes three to five litres of water for every one-litre bottle produced. Most of that water is disposed through our municipal sewer systems, even though that water is generally still drinking water quality.
We all know purchasing bottled water is more expensive than filling up a re-usable bottle, but how much more expensive? In the cafeteria at Niagara College, bottled water sold for $2.50. On average, municipally sourced water costs $1.40/m3 at Niagara College. Since 1 m3 equals 1000 litres, it costs $0.0014 per litre. To fill a 500ml water bottle it would cost $0.0007. That means purchasing bottled water is 3571 times more expensive than filling your water bottle!
The Council of Canadians is actively involved in addressing the bottled water industry through their campaign, Unbottle It. They have many resources available with further information regarding bottled water and you can check out their website here to get more information! They also have a webpage titled: Spinning the Bottle: Tackling Industry Spin on Bottled Water may answer other questions you have.