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UVM Bottled Water Story

Bottled Water Sales Ended 1/1/2013

UVM is one of the first public universities in the country to end the sale of bottled water (the flat and unflavored variety) on campus. Burlington, Vermont provides safe, clean drinking water to campus, and providing bottled water from another community is not necessary. Ending bottled water sales will also reduce the amount of waste generated from the purchase and disposal of plastic bottles, which had reached numbers in excess of 350,000 per year at UVM before a sustained student campaign shifted many students' habits, reducing sales by about a third.

On January 31, 2012 the University of Vermont announced that it would end the sale of bottled water on campus and mandate healthy options for one-third of the drinks offered in vending machines. Read the article from University Communications here.


Read the Vermont Quarterly article from Spring 2013, and see below.

How did this come about?

Sales of bottled water end January 2013. Because of the complexity in retrofitting water fountains from many eras across our historic campus, the date for ending sales of bottled water was extended six months beyond the end of the 2002-2012 contract. Bottled water is not to be sold through vending, retail, concessions, catering, or residential dining.

Student, faculty and staff opinion: The student message for five years focused on ending sales of bottled water on campus. Faculty concern about what constitutes healthy beverages has also arisen, and several fall 2011 events addressed this question. In fall 2012 a Social Research Methods course, CDAE 250 taught by Dr. David Conner, conducted observations, interviews and surveys of undergraduate students about their beverage habits and opinions. This service-learning class helped inform the administration's decisions about how best to implement the policy.

Ten-year beverage contract ended June 2012: The contract with Coca-Cola of Northern New England expired June 30, 2012. There is no longer a corporate sponsorship arrangement, with near-exclusive marketing and "pouring rights." The University put the vending portion, comprising about 20% of total bottled beverage sales, out to bid. Most of the beverages served on campus have continued to be sold through Dining Services in retail, residential dining, catering, and athletics concessions. Now that the ten-year exclusive contract has ended, Dining may purchase the beverage mix of their choice, usually through national contracts available through Sodexo, Dining's parent company, with Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other companies.

Non-exclusive beverage vending started July 2012: On February 1, 2012, a request for proposal was released seeking proposals to provide UVM with beverage vending. UVM received three bid responses as part of this process. The University chose Sodexo as the vendor for the beverage vending contract for the following three years. This contract began on July 1, 2012 and extends through June 30, 2015. The contract is a non-exclusive agreement and Sodexo offers products from multiple brands. Consistent with the University’s goal to support environmental sustainability this contract will exclude bottled (non-flavored and non-carbonated) water from all vending machines beginning on January 1, 2013. Additionally, in the interest of promoting more healthy choices, at least 33% of the beverage options in vending machines on campus is to be healthy choice products according to American Heart Association guidelines.

Who were these student activists, and what did they do?

Students for a Sustainable Beverage System was started by members of VSTEP (Vermont Students Towards Environmental Protection).  VSTEP members are concerned about environmental protection, human rights, health and nutrition, agriculture systems, and promoting local economies by supporting local vendors, among other issues.

SSBS included anyone who signed VSTEP's petition to ask for a positive change in UVM's beverage system. VSTEP worked with Eco-Reps, Student Government Association senators, Slow Food UVM, and UVM Residential Life, and was supported by Student Life and the UVM Office of Sustainability. By mobilizing a collaboration of student groups working with faculty and staff, the group could influence decisions about the beverage contract. Two resolutions in favor of a more sustainable beverage system passed the Student Government Association, adding the weight of an official governance group.

SSBS supported a number of measures, focusing on  the following:

  • NO bottled water sold/provided by the university on campus
  • Decrease in single-use plastic beverage containers
  • Increase in water & beverage fountain access across campus

After many conversations, the arguments in favor of the group's goals gained traction around campus and with faculty and staff governance groups, and the university leaders made the decision to take a new approach with the expiration of the beverage contract.

Here's how Ilana Copel, 2012-13 VSTEP co-president, described the history:

"The shift towards ending bottled water sales on campus began quite a few years ago, and was really set in motion by Mikayla McDonald (UVM ’10), who was president of VSTEP and an SGA senator. Later, VSTEP co-presidents Marlee Baron and Emilyn Fox (both UVM ’11) sped things up, both putting in immense amounts of time doing research, presentations, proposal drafts, etc. Marlee wrote her thesis on “Creating a Sustainable Beverage System at UVM.” Greg Francese (UVM ’12) was president ’11-’12 when the administration really got on board with the change.

Shana McCann and I are now co-presidents, and will be working to makes sure the transition to reusable bottles and refill stations goes smoothly for students. However, all of the steps were whole-club efforts, and many people helped with every stage of the process."

Contact VSTEP at