BELLINGHAM - Students moving into to their dorms at Western Washington University this weekend will have to unpack their sheets, their clothes and their reusable water bottles, as the school is working toward banning bottled water.
Students passed the initiative recommending that university administration ban sales of bottled water on campus with 73 percent approval last April, but there's still no timeline for if and when the ban might go into effect.
The Associated Students Board of Directors began working on the ban this summer, and the plan is still in its infancy, AS Vice President of Student Life Katie Savinski said in an email. The board will be working on it this school year, which begins Wednesday, Sept. 26.
"Because we are dealing with a very large issue with extensive contracts and many stakeholders involved, there are several considerations the board has to make," she said. "The contractual agreements we have with Walton Beverage, the loss of revenue that would occur if there was a ban, and all parties that would see that decrease in funding are just a few of the many."
In the meantime, the school used $21,000 from the university's green energy fee grant program to install three water stations on campus - in Old Main, the Wade King Student Recreation Center, and in Arntzen Hall - to make it easier for students to refill reusable bottles during the day.
Incoming freshman Michael Reynolds was happy to hear WWU was considering the ban and is already in the habit of bringing his reusable water bottle with him.
"I prefer saving the environment if you can," he said. "Anything small like that would help. Plastics are pollutants that don't decay, so I'd rather not fill up landfills with them."
The Evergreen State College and Seattle University already have banned single-use plastic water bottles on their campuses. At Evergreen, the ban went into effect this January, after several years of work and negotiations with food service providers, said Scott Morgan, Evergreen's director of sustainability.
Bottled water bans are getting more common, he said, and it's something that colleges throughout the country are working on. Especially in a place like Washington, where tap water quality is generally pretty high, it just makes sense to move away from bottled water, Morgan said.
"Very seldom is the bottled water any better than the water you're getting out of your tap," he said. "It really does seem frivolous to a lot of people that we're bottling and reselling something you can get out of your tap."
For WWU junior Scott Foss, though, tap water isn't cold and fresh enough for him, and it's just not as easy as buying a bottle of water when he's thirsty.
"I think that's sort of an inconvenience," he said of the potential ban. "I'm on the go a lot and I'm too lazy to pick up my own (water bottle)."
If the ban goes into effect, it may be similar to Bellingham's recent plastic bag ban. But instead of shoppers remembering to bring a reusable bag into the store, students will have to remember to bring their own bottle to campus.
"You have to sort of change the culture," said Sharon Goodman, director of residential and dining services at Evergreen. "You can give them water bottles, but I don't think that people don't carry them because they don't own one. They forget or it's inconvenient."
For the most part, though, she said Evergreen's bottled water ban has gone smoothly. The ban went into effect in phases before being completely in place in January, and the school worked to reduce bottled water sales and do outreach about the ban beforehand.
"There hasn't been much push-back for bottled water," she said.
Goodman said she was interested to see where campuses might look next to further reduce waste, whether it's banning other plastic bottles on campus or reducing waste from old or obsolete technologies.
WWU senior Adrian Milsap hadn't heard about the bottled water ban but hoped it would be a jumping-off point for a bigger effort.
"I think it's a great idea," he said. "If you're going to do it, do it big. I feel like there's more stuff that we could accomplish. Take the reins. Be the frontrunner."