University of Vermont

Vermont Climate Collaborative

UVM Celebrates End of Bottled Water Sales With Bottled Water 'Retirement Party'

'Monument to Waste' eco-sculpture unveiled, made from 2,000 discarded water bottles

bottled water sculpture
An eco-sculpture made of 2,000 discarded water bottles was unveiled at the Davis Center in celebration of the end of bottled water sales, set to begin Jan. 1. (Photo: Sally McCay)

Beginning January 2013, the University of Vermont will no longer sell bottled water on its campus – in vending machines, retail outlets or dining halls. To remind students of this coming bottled-water-free future and to celebrate the accomplishment, the university held a Bottled Water Retirement Party on Dec. 5. 

A series of speakers commemorated the significance of the new policy, and students sold refillable water bottles for $2 each and conducted taste tests of tap and bottled water.

But highlighting the event, perhaps, was the unveiling of an eco-sculpture made from 2,000 discarded water bottles gathered on campus and in the Burlington community that took seven weeks to build. 

Titled “Inherently Unstable and Prone to Collapse: A Monument to Waste,” the arch-shaped sculpture was conceived and designed by UVM Art Department faculty member Beth Haggart. Art majors Casey Smith and Ashley Roche assisted Haggart in the construction of the sculpture.  Other UVM students also helped with the assembly.

In addition to water bottles, the 10-foot high sculpture makes use of discarded bicycle tire inner tubes and scrapped cardboard.  

“I hope people take this image home and remember it every time they reach for a bottled water,” Haggart said.  

The sculpture will be exhibited in the atrium of the Dudley H. Davis Center on the UVM campus, where the event was held, over the next two weeks. 

Bottled water campaign began four years ago

The campus-wide effort to end bottled water sales at UVM began four years ago, spearheaded by the Vermont Students Toward Environmental Protection (VSTEP), a student run, non-profit organization created in 1988 to expand UVM’s recycling program and address environmental issues on Vermont campuses.      

Mikayla McDonald ’10 , who spoke at the event, and Marlee Baron ’11, both former VSTEP presidents and senators on the Student Government Association, were among the initial group of students to address the bottled water issue and started planning Bring Your Own Bottle days and informational tabling events.

The two students crafted bottled water resolutions that were passed by the SGA in the 2009/2010 academic year, after VSTEP gathered 1,200 signatures from UVM students in support of a resolution calling for a sustainable beverage system, surpassing the 10 percent requirement for an SGA resolution. SGA formally voted to approved the end of bottled water sales in the the fall of 2011.

Filling the gap with “filling stations”

To promote the use of refillable water bottles, UVM is converting 75 drinking fountains on campus to filling stations, which feature a spout to fill them, at a cost of about $30,000. Sixty-nine drinking fountains have currently been converted; the remainder will be completed before the start of the second semester in mid-January.

The filling stations are located at the busiest spots on campus, with a goal of having at least one per major building. Location decisions were also made with input from plumbers and custodians who noticed people trying to fill their bottles on fountains without fillers. Suggestions also came informally from staff and students.

UVM chose to retrofit existing water fountains, rather than purchase all new equipment, as some other campuses have done, because the cost was lower. A map of the filling station locations is available at www.uvm.edu/sustain/bottledwater.

UVM part of national trend

Ending bottled water sales on college campuses is one of the most prominent environmental causes students are adopting today, according to Emily Wurth, water program director at Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based non-governmental and consumer rights group that focuses on corporate and government accountability relating to food, water and fishing. 

According to statistics compiled by the group, which helps campuses develop water bottle campaigns through its Take Back the Tap program, 60 colleges currently have bottled water campaigns under way. “The issue seems to really resonate with students,” Wurth said.

Only 22 campus have enacted full bottled water bans, as UVM has, according to the group. UVM is the first public university in the country to end sales of bottled water.

Food & Water Watch has documented 50 colleges and universities that have enacted full or partial bottled water bans.  Examples of partial water bottle bans include: banning departments from purchasing bottled water for faculty or staff; ending the use of student organization funds to purchase bottled water; or ending the sales of bottled water in certain venues like meal halls. 

In 2009, Washington University in St. Louis became the first known school to end the sale of bottled water and restrict the use of university funds to purchase it for meetings and events.  

Speakers at the event included Gioia Thompson, director of UVM’s Office of Sustainability, Mikayla McDonald, Ilana Copel, current VSTEP co-president, Tom Dion, chief operator for water in the Burlington Public Works Department, and sculptor Beth Haggart. 

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