Think Before You Drink

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Corey Kowalczyke is a freshman English major.

corey_headshotEvery student has done it. You are in the caf grabbing your lunch when you realize you don’t have your refillable water bottle. Out of convenience, you go to the drink section and get a Smartwater. On-campus students may overlook the fact that three dollars of our Flexi was spent on something one can get for free out of the tap. It’s more of a temptation to grab an ice cold bottled water than to take your reusable water bottle to the water fountain to fill up. Despite this, it is ludicrous to charge students such a high price for bottled water.

Even though San Francisco gets its water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite–a water system considered very safe to drink–most students do not like the idea of drinking out of the tap. According to the Washington Post, “77 percent of Americans are concerned about pollution in their drinking water, according to Gallup, even though tap water and bottled water are treated the same way, and studies show that tap is as safe as bottled.” Water bottle companies market to consumers using keywords such as “fresh,” “pure,” and “bottled at the source.” These companies also use celebrities and athletes to convince their audiences that drinking bottled water is good for their health. However, the story behind plastic Smartwater bottles goes beyond just marketing.

Industrial chemicals found in many polycarbonate plastics, such as BPA, go into the production of plastic water bottles. The true effects BPA may have on the human body is unknown. However, these chemicals can leech into the beverage without the consumer even knowing it, as these chemicals are tasteless.

If this is not enough to discourage one from using plastic bottles; foreign bottled water strains our non-renewable sources, as transportation of the bottled water is energy heavy. For instance, the amount of fossil fuels that it takes to transport Fiji Water adds up, as Business Insider reports that on average, the production of water bottles uses 17 million barrels of oil a year. Moreover, it takes three times the amount of water to produce the plastic than the actual amount that the water bottle holds. Nevertheless, students continue to buy plastic water out of convenience and effective marketing.

In an effort to become more environmentally-friendly and sustainable, certain universities such as Humboldt State, Portland State and Seattle University successfully implemented tap water campaigns to ban the sale of plastic water bottles. In a talk with Dr. Gretchen Coffman, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at USF, she described how one of the reasons she was attracted to moving to San Francisco was that the city was known for being a progressive leader in the environmental movement.

As a university, we could do more to address the plastic water bottle use on campus. Although we have an Office of Sustainability at USF which ensures the university is on the right path to being more sustainable, we fall short in awareness and campaigns to encourage the university community to use reusable water bottles. Although students are given a free reusable water bottle at the beginning of the year as freshman, it is not enough to say that we have done our part to encourage drinking from the tap.

One reason may be that USF makes a large profit on the sale of plastic water bottles, along with other plastic bottled drinks through Bon Appetit. While I was unable to reach a campus official regarding these profits, in a talk with Director of Facilities Management Craig Petersen, he informed me that the university receives 50 percent of the profit that Bon Appetit receives in revenue at all the cafeterias located on campus. Although many drink from reusable containers, to truly convince the university community to drink from reusable bottles, we should implement a ban on the sale of plastic water bottles on campus. USF should reconsider their negotiations with Coca-Cola, our beverage provider, to ensure that we remain our path to become a truly environmentally sustainable and efficient university.

As a University, we take pride in the motto “Change the World From Here,” and as students, we should give more attention to the sale of plastic bottles and the waste they produce. Although plastic beverage bottles are inevitable in certain circumstances, let’s change our campus from here. Before you grab another water bottle with your next meal, consider the environmental implications of using it. As students, we are the face of our University. Located in San Francisco, one of America’s most environmentally friendly cities, we should be more mindful of our everyday plastic use. We have done a lot as a community to address environmental concerns, but just like any other movement, there is always more to be done. Next time you are in the caf and feel thirsty, think before you drink.

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