The recent movement to ban the sale of plastic water bottles at schools is flooding its way to MCTC. Student Senate’s new student-driven Water Committee follow the likes of other Minnesota colleges such as St. Benjamin and Macalaster who have implemented the ban, while Bemidji State and Minnesota’s University Morris campus are working on the promotion of tap water.
“There’s environmental reasons, there’s financial reasons, and then for me it’s the ethical reason that no human should have to pay for water,” said Brad Conley, President of Student Senate.
With a unanimous vote from the Senate’s 35-40 members, the motion made was to move forward with a strategy to eliminate the sale of bottled water
“Water needs to be free [and] it needs to be clean. People cannot live without water. I think it’s a fundamental service the school needs to provide,” said Conley.
“Our contracted food service is provided by Sodexo”, said Gary Westerland, Director of Auxilary Services. Sodexo, also the provider of the school’s coffee service, Aspretto, the school’s bookstore and the vending machines, are all separately owned businesses under the school, each selling bottled water.
Jeffery Johnson, General Manager of Sodexo said, “There is nothing in the contract stipulating bottled water, providing or not providing it.” With Sodexo’s food program there is, “a big bearing on the fact all of our food is purchased retail. There’s no meal plans. It makes a big difference between resident dining and retail dining.”
However, some residential institutions such as The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus have restrictions in their contracts preventing them from considering the ban, which for the university is with Coca-Cola. Johnson said, “There would have to be an amendment in the contract should the school ban bottled water here, and if they did then we would honor that. I don’t know how far this is going to go with the thousands of institutions across the country whether it’s a Sodexo unit or not a Sodexo unit. I hear both sides of the argument.”
With Sodexo’s current contract expiring this coming June, this could be a good time for researching alternate water options. Speaking with President Davis, Conley said, “The school needs to update its drinking fountains. [The Senate] opted to purchase a fountain with a bottle filler option in the cafeteria.”
Conley said the plan for the new fountain was meant to be implemented last year, but was told by Vice President Scott Erickson the new style fountain will be installed this semester in the Hellend Center but, “we need at least one in every single building, possibly two in [the T-building] because it’s so big.”
Despite new implementations, there is no answer as of yet if the movement will go as far as banning sale of plastic water bottles.
Johnson said, “I don’t know if I agree with banning them totally. I like to give people the option. It’s like, we provide french fries here. People say, ‘you shouldn’t provide french fries, they’re not good for you’, but we have a lot of people who want french fries.”
Health aside, protests lead by students like the one at St. Benjamin’s have taken place. “The young Republicans are fighting [the school] taking away the choice. When groups start dictating for everybody, then there’s problems with that,” said Johnson
The cash registers speak for themselves; bottled water is the number one beverage item sold on campus.
“We watch [students’] buying habits. We really try to respond as quickly as we can to what we see as to what students are buying or not buying,” Westerland said.
If the numbers for water are so high, Conley said, “That means students want water. If you had water that was good, and clean, and free, students would take clean and free over clean and bottled and $1.50.”
Other than the price, when it comes to the plastic bottles Conley said, “Everything about the bottle itself, from its manufacturer to its disposal is detrimental. From the second that it’s created, just in the process of making it, all the fumes that are released are bad for the environment.”
Johnson said, “For those that are serious about reducing the carbon footprint they should bring in their own bottle and fill it up, or their own cup.”
Sodexo provides 16oz. and 20oz. light styrofoam cups for students to use for water or soda pop from the fountain dispensers. With a meal purchase, a cup is free. On its own, “We charge 20 cents, and 2 cents tax just to cover the cost of the cup,” said Johnson. These cups are less dense, and are an inexpensive alternative to plastic bottles. The greenest cups are the large 32oz cups, which are paper with a wax coating.
“I think the institution as a whole has made some pretty good progress for the sustainability issue. We’ve installed and will be installing more water fountains on campus,” Westerland said.
A new water option idea which doesn’t appear to be costly or hurt the environment, taken from St. Cloud State, involves actually taking, “real fruit when it’s in season and put it in large water stations, so you have naturally fruit flavored water available. That’s something we’re looking into to provide at no charge to the students,” said Westerland.
For the Water Committee, open for any student to join, it’s not the final wave. Options discussed with President Davis to encourage students against purchasing plastic water bottles suggested giving each new student a reusable water bottle at orientation. “He’s looking to be just as innovative as we are with Senate. He knows students have to be comfortable and happy to perform well and to stick around,” said Conley, This may also “help influence students to quit buying so much soda pop. And that’ll improve their overall well-being [and] consequently their grades. We need to make a campus environment that’s conducive to that.”
Westerland said, “It’s certainly a challenge to meet the demands of the entire student population. We’re always interested in partnering with student groups to look at options.”
“The conversation needs to be out there. It needs to be real,” said Conley. “We get as much information out there as we can. Students really feel very strongly about this, and we need to be heard.”