University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Banning the Bottles

Mikayla McDonald
Mikayla McDonald ’10, photograph by Sally McCay

THE GREEN

Banning the Bottles

UVM gained the national media spotlight in January when a pioneering ban on campus sales of bottled water took effect. Vermont is the largest public university in the country to make such a move, an initiative that was driven by student activism. When the university bade farewell to bottled water with a campus ceremony in December, Mikayla McDonald ’10 was among the speakers. Her comments are excerpted below.

"I was asked to speak a little about why we, as UVM students, decided to take up the issue of bottled water. Others here can enlighten us as to how many millions of barrels of oil are wasted in the production and transportation of plastic bottles across the world; or how many billions of plastic bottles get thrown in landfills or end up in our oceans and on our roadsides every year; or how many communities have had their rights of access to clean drinkable water violated by corporations privatizing local water sources.

But to me, bottled water is a symbol and a symptom of how far our culture has strayed from a path of conscience, responsibility, and respect for life on earth. Bottled water is symbolic of our culture’s obsession with convenience, and the escalating problem of privatization of public resources, rampant consumerism, and most importantly, the desecration and commodification of Earth’s sacred and vital resources.

One of the prevailing reasons that I’ve heard students give for why they buy bottled water is convenience. What is convenience? Is it the right not to care, not to pay attention, not to think deeply about our actions and their consequences; the right not to know where the oil to make those bottles came from, what environments were poisoned in the process, from whom the water you are drinking was stolen so that corporations could make a profit? It’s hard in this society of endless externalities to understand all the consequences of every product that we consume. That’s why educational campaigns like the one that VSTEP created around bottled water are so important for keeping all of us grounded in the reality of this environmentally stressed planet.

However small this action may seem, know that it is, at its core, an inspiration to others to think critically about what we are doing to the world individually and collectively, and whether the trajectory we are on as a society is acceptable, or even desirable."

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