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Bottled Water Banished at University of Vermont

Vending machines to feature ‘healthy choices’

By Lauren Drasler, Assistant New Editor | The Vermont Cynic | Thursday, February 2, 2012

The sale of bottled water on campus will end Jan. 1, 2013, makingUVM one of the first institutions nationwide to pass this type of sustainable beverage policy, according to University Communications.

UVM will remove bottled water from its 57 vending machines and in retail outlets as well asmandate that one-third of the drinks in vending machines be healthy choices,University Communications stated.

Though the administration made this decision, Director for the Office of Sustainability Gioia Thompson said that student groups such as Vermont Student Environmental Program (VSTEP) really led the way.

“In 2010 and 2011, Mikayla McDonald and Marlee Baron each served as both VSTEP president and SGA senator,” Thompson said.  “They were key in connecting with SGA committees and leaders, who responded with resolutions.”

Thompson said that UVM’s campus has 200 water fountains that can easily be retrofitted with water bottle filling stations like the ones in the Davis Center for about $300 each.

“Other fountains will need to be replaced, costing in the thousands,” she said. “There may be some new fountain locations requiring new plumbing, as is the case in the Waterman building’s recent fountain upgrade.”

Vice President of Finance and Administration Richard Cate estimates that the cost of updating and replacing water fountains throughout campus will be about $100,000.

“This action is not likely to save the University any money, but hopefully students will save

money by having better access to chilled drinking water for which they do not have to pay,” he

said.

The Coca-Cola contract, which gives the company exclusive pouring rights at the University and is set to expire in June, generates $482,000 in revenue for UVM, Cate said.  Of that revenue, some is used to directly benefit students.

“$157,000 of the $482,000 from the current contract goes to student financial aid,” he said.

Cate confirmed that revenue from the new contracts will also be directed toward student aid.

President of VSTEP Greg Francese said that his club has worked directly with the Office of Sustainability and student organizations in order to educate the community about environmental issues such as the impact of bottled water.

Francese said that VSTEP’s main goal for the past five years has been to ban the sale of bottled water, with campaigns such as Bring Your Own Bottle days, in which students are encouraged to not buy bottled water for one day.

“We wanted people to think about why they’re purchasing bottled water,” he said. “The way we’ve done that is basically just by educating people about why you can get virtually the same product for free out of a water fountain.”

Though the decision to end sales of bottled water on campus is finally official, Francese said the news has not sunk in yet.

“It feels surreal, I guess it hasn’t really hit me yet,” he said. “There’s been a lot of congratulatory emails, and I got interviewed by one of the local news stations, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s happening.

“When it happens it will be great,” he said.

Former VSTEP president Mikayla McDonald said that she is very supportive of UVM’s decision to let the Coke contract expire and to remove the sale of bottled water from campus.

“UVM has shown great leadership with this action and will undoubtedly motivate students in other American colleges and universities to take similar initiatives,” she said.

McDonald said she has a variety of issues with the bottled water industry.

“Single-serving, plastic-packaged bottled water is one of those products which has a 100 percent manufactured demand,” she said. “That means that there was essentially no need or want for it until bottled water companies started spending billions of dollars on advertising.”

These advertising campaigns have successfully convinced many Americans that municipal tap water is dirty and dangerous while bottled water is cleaner and healthier, McDonald said. In fact, the opposite is true.

Many students said they agree with the University’s decision to stop selling bottled water.

“I think it’s awesome,” senior Audrey Stout said.  “We don’t need any more plastic, so I’m all for this idea.”

Other students agreed that bottled water is a waste.

“There is plenty of opportunity to get free water from the fountains, and reusable water bottles are always being given away here,” sophomore Isaiah Cory said.

Though most students said they supported the administration’s decision, others said they didn’t like the idea of completely banning water bottle sales.

“Anytime there is a ban it’s an infringement,” senior Ben Zabriskie said.  “If the University put a $1 tariff on bottled water, then that money could be used to support conservation instead of completely banning bottled water sales.”

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