Over the summer, Bishop’s University, became the first university in Quebec to ban the sale of bottled water on campus. And there’s a good chance that Concordia, Quebec’s largest English-language university, will follow suit. But is an outright ban on bottled water really the way to go?
Now, I’m no fan of bottled water, I know that plastic bottles are bad for the environment and it’s a huge rip-off. The bottled water sold at Concordia is just regular old Montreal tap water. I’d much rather bring a reusable water bottle and save the 2,000 per cent markup. Pepsi pays the city $2 for every 1,000 liters, according to CBC. That’s less than one cent per bottle.
But, while I’m not going to be buying bottled water myself, I’m not sure that an outright ban is such a good idea. There still are a lot of unanswered questions about the long-term effects these bans will have.
Will banning bottled water lead to increased consumption of other bottled beverages, like pop and sports drinks? The anti-bottled water advocates claim “there is no evidence to suggest that without bottled water, people will consume unhealthy beverages such as colas.” The problem is these bans are all extremely new. Sure there’s no evidence that they will. But there’s no evidence that they won’t. The quote above comes from a study at the University of Winnipeg released before a bottled water ban was even fully implemented.
It’s quite likely that students who say forget to bring a reusable bottle — or who don’t want to — now don’t have the choice and are forced to purchase unhealthy drinks. I’ve definitely been in the situation where I haven’t had a reusable bottle with me and I’ve bought a bottle of something, not because that’s what I wanted to drink but because I wanted something to fill up with tap water and, anecdotally, I’ve heard similar stories from other students.
Bottled water bans have often been coupled with the distribution of reusable bottles, but this also raises some issues. Several years ago students attending an orientation event put on by the Concordia Student Union were required to buy reusable coffee mugs for their beer (the mugs were sold for something like $1). After the event the street was littered with reusable mugs.
While hard numbers are hard to pin down, it takes somewhere between 500 and 1,000 uses for a reusable mug to have less of an environmental impact than a disposable one. Certainly the numbers would be different for water but the fact remains that reusable bottles require a lot of use for them to have less of an environmental impact than disposable ones. Think of how much more plastic or metal goes into the manufacture of a reusable bottle.
And if we’re banning bottled water because of the environmental impact of plastic bottles shouldn’t we be banning everything else that comes in plastic bottles? A bottle of cola is just as bad as a bottle of water. So where do we go from here? What’s going to be banned on campus next?