In response to student activism, UVM ended the sale of bottled water on its campus in January 2013. Student research on beverage sales the following semester indicated that as a result of this policy, consumption of beverages with added sugars may have increased during that time frame, without the number of single-use containers decreasing. It's not easy obtaining and analysing the data, and despite great interest, no followup study has been completed.
However, many aspects of beverage service have changed since 2013, including increasing the ratio of healthy beverage options and refilling stations for multiple beverage types. In 2016 UVM rolled out a campus-wide campaign called UVM Hearts Water to remind the campus community of the health benefits of drinking local water and the environmental benefits of refilling reusable bottles. This campaign has helped the UVM community adapt to the new normal.
Additional changes made in 2016 include:
- Free, filtered cold water is now available in all retail dining outlets via fountain beverage machines.
- UVM Dining has updated its healthy beverage standard requiring that at least 50% of beverage offerings contain 40 or fewer calories per 8-ounce serving. This standard is stricter than UVM’s previous 30% standard, both in definition and in percentage of compliant beverages.
- UVM Dining has introduced Coca-Cola Freestyle machines — with a free water option— in several retail and residential dining outlets. Reusable Freestyle bottles, which help cut down on waste, are available for purchase from UVM Dining. (Update in 2020: unfortunately, the Freestyle machine option has not been popular with students, despite outreach efforts; this option is likely to be discontinued.)
Remember to bring your bottle
You can find a water fountain with a bottle filler in almost every building on campus.
Show off your bottle
Is your water bottle a reflection of you? Share a picture of it on Instagram with the tag #uvmheartswater for a chance to be featured on our blog!
What to consider for your campus
Find out when the next beverage contract is due. Is it part of the dining contract? How do these things get decided? You'll want to demonstrate support for the idea at least a year before the next big beverage/food contract.
When the time comes, get on the committee that drafts the RFP, or find an ally. (Is a student allowed to be on the committee? It’s highly confidential, so perhaps not.) Include language in the RFP for that contract about waste reduction, and ask the companies what they can do to provide alternatives to single-serve, disposable containers.
As you think about making a change, we recommend not calling your effort a “ban.” Once you are able to change systems, you can call that change “ending sale of bottled water” if you like. Meanwhile, talking about “banning bottled water” and "banning water bottles” can be confusing and polarizing. The idea is not to stop people from bringing bottled water to campus or consuming it, but instead for the campus not to sell bottled water anymore.
Culture & Data
We recommend doing a “before” survey or study about how much people use their own water bottles or the water fountains to stay hydrated, versus purchased beverages. Identify what’s in the way of people filling their own water bottles on campus. See if a research methods or stats class can help. Remember that it's really about students and their experience on campus.
Start a campaign to get people (especially students) to fill up their own water bottles, and to drink out of them frequently. Make carrying your own bottle be part of a culture of fun.
Once you have had some success that you can talk about, make sure the policymakers are aware of student enthusiasm for the topic. You can then talk about changing the beverage system in the next contract for beverages/dining. It will help to get endorsement from student government for making a change, and it's good to talk with the staff and faculty governance groups as well.
Yes, there are other things to be done later to support a more sustainable beverage system (changes in dining and vending) but the greatest benefit will come from first getting students to have a water bottle attached to their backpacks, and for them to be able to fill those bottles on campus.
If there aren't other convenient ways for people to stay hydrated, bottled water will continue to be the easiest choice. You want to change that. Find some funding to provide bottle fillers on water fountains in key locations. Consider having a call for ideas about where to install however many you can afford.
No need to have a fancy fountain with a counter for “avoided bottles.” You want a durable fixture, minimal cost of labor + materials.
Many institutions have changed their offerings of bottled beverages. Find a peer or aspirant institution who has done what you hope to do in order to help make the case to your administration in a context that translates well to your campus.
For example, Washington University in St. Louis has put out a brief report about their experience with banning bottled water showing that consumption of less healthy beverages did not go up as a result of ending bottled water sales.