Cornell’s Student Assembly (SA) is slated to vote on a resolution that calls on the administration to end the sale and distribution of plastic bottled water on campus and at University sanctioned events.
The resolution, “Ending Bottled Water Sales on Cornell Campus”, is sponsored by Executive Vice President Emma Johnston ’16, and submitted by Emily Dong ’18, Chair of the SA’s Environmental Policy and Planning Commission, as well as several campus environmental clubs.
Earlier this month, the Plastics Subcommittee of the Environmental Policy and Planning Committee publicized a petition calling for the end of plastic bottled water sales on campus, which according to the resolution garnered over 870 student, faculty, alumni, and staff signatures. The petition listed nine reasons for the proposed ban, ranging from negative environmental outcomes of bottled water consumption to pointing out that over 90 colleges and universities have banned or restricted the sale of bottled water on their campuses.
According to the resolution, Cornell sells 350,000-400,000 water bottles and purchases more than 30,000 five-gallon carboy water bottles for campus water coolers per year, amounting to $640,000 in cost, whereas the equivalent in tap water would be $1,000. Cornell’s plastic bottled water consumption causes about 115,000 kg of CO2 emissions, which is equivalent to 265 barrels of oil according to the resolution.
“The petition has been generating meaningful discussion about tangible steps to reduce plastic products such as disposable water bottles that enter the campus waste stream,” Zenya Hu ’19, a member of the environmental committee, told the Cornell Sun two weeks ago.
To the contrary, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health earlier this year by researchers at the University of Vermont, Burlington, found that a ban of plastic water bottle sales on that campus led to a per-capita increase in waste and sugar-intake. In the study’s conclusion, the authors, both in the school’s Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, write: “The bottled water ban did not reduce the number of bottles entering the waste stream from the university campus, the ultimate goal of the ban. With the removal of bottled water, consumers increased their consumption of less healthy bottled beverages.”
The study found a 6% increase in the number of bottles shipped to campus and thus entering the waste stream after the ban was enacted, and a 33% increase in the number of bottles of unhealthy sugary drinks shipped to campus. This occurred despite the university providing free reusable water bottles at campus events, creating 68 water fountains on campus, and conducting an education campaign to inform students about the changes, according to study co-author Rachel Johnson.
“If a student body wants to become healthier while at the same time being environmentally conscious, banning all beverages sold in plastic bottles makes a lot more sense. Why only ban bottled water, one of the healthiest drinks available?” Johnson told The Cornell Review in an email.
Johnson also explained that consuming bottled soft drinks and sports drinks adds more plastic to the waste stream because those bottles require two to four times more plastic than plastic water bottles.
Cornell professor of nutrition and psychology David Levitsky found the study to “look pretty solid” and said that increased sugar intake can lead to weight gain and related diseases like diabetes and hypertension.