Western Washington University is poised to become the largest public university in the country to ban sales of bottled water. The school joins Evergreen State College and Seattle University in making the move.
For many young environmentalists, saying no to bottled water and yes to public taps is an easy choice and a cause they can get passionate about.
That’s certainly the case for Carolyn Bowie, co-president of Students for Sustainable Water at Western Washington University in Bellingham. For her, bottled water is wrong from start to finish.
“The bottles themselves are made of petroleum, a non-renewable resource. And once people dispose of them, only one-fifth of bottles actually make it into the recycling,” she said.
The plastic clogs landfills and pollutes our oceans. And, Bowie feels, water should be considered a human right.
“And when corporations begin to extract water on huge scales, it really commodifies and turns what should be a shared resource into a commodity to make profit off of,” she said.
That’s the argument at the heart of a national movement that has helped 125 cities including Seattle ban bottled water use in official business. Fourteen National parks including Mt. Rainier, and more than 70 universities across the country are also going bottle-free.
Last spring, after nearly three years of campaigning, the student body at Western voted on the proposed ban of all bottled water sales on campus. Seventy two percent supported the proposal.
And last month, they received a letter from the school’s administration stating the school would begin implementing the ban as soon as possible to help the university meet its goal of serving as a model of institutional sustainability.
Bowie can hardly contain herself as she remembers getting the news.
“Oh, my God. We were ecstatic. I can’t express how excited we are to have this finally come to such a great conclusion for the year,” she said.
It wasn’t an easy win. As a public school, Western is facing massive budget tightening. The student association had to agree to absorb up to nearly $60,000 in lost revenue if people buy fewer cold beverages from campus shops and vending machines after the ban is in place. The money could be cut from the students’ budgets for residence halls and lecture series.