WWU bans plastic water bottle sales starting April 1


BELLINGHAM - Sales of bottled water on Western Washington University's campus will end April 1 - about two years after students overwhelmingly voted for the ban over environmental concerns.

Western will be the largest Washington state college or university, public or private, to do so, thanks to an initiative led by Students for Sustainable Water to get people to turn to tap water instead of buying plain water in disposable plastic bottles.

Sales of bottled water are harmful to the environment, in part because just 13 percent of the plastic bottles are recycled, according to WWU senior Carolyn Bowie, a member of Students for Sustainable Water at Western.

She also cited concerns about water privatization and excessive extraction of water, adding that water was a "sacred and scarce resource" that was recognized as a human right by the United Nations.

"In a much larger picture, Western is actively standing up for the human right to water," said Bowie, who is majoring in environmental science with a minor in philosophy.

Although campus sales don't end until next month, students already are opting for reusable water bottles.

Counters on three bottle-refilling stations installed around the Bellingham campus in 2012 show they have refilled the equivalent of nearly 400,000 plastic water bottles, as of March 14.

And that doesn't include all the bottles refilled at drinking fountains or faucets.

WWU graduate student Samantha Gunderson said she doesn't know anyone who buys bottled water. The last time she can recall doing so was when she studied abroad a year ago.

"It's silly to buy bottled water," said Gunderson, 23. "I can understand buying soda, but you spend so much on plastic water bottles when you could just buy one bottle and reuse it."

Western students passed the ban in spring 2012 with 73 percent of voters in favor of asking the university to stop selling and distributing bottled water on campus.

Following the student initiative, a task force of students, faculty and university staff met to implement the measure, according to a Western news release.

Part of that effort included finding ways to offset lost revenue, with student groups agreeing to make up any possible funding loss.

Sales of bottled water amounted to roughly 10 percent - or $40,000 annually - of all cold beverage sales on campus, according to Western.

Leonard Jones, director of University Residences, called that $40,000 loss a worst-case scenario, adding that someone who can't buy water from a vending machine might instead buy soda or juice.

"We believe that people will buy something else," Jones said.

Western's ban is part of a national trend among colleges and universities.

As of December, about 25 had enacted complete bans like Western, and 44 had partial ones, according to figures from Food & Water Watch.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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