The Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS) Board of Directors unanimously voted on Wednesday, Dec. 10 to ban the sale or distribution of bottled water on the SUNY New Paltz campus.
Other than during water emergencies where no water is available through the tap, the campus will not be selling or distributing water bottles effective when the new beverage contract is signed, according to Annie Courtens, an off-campus elected student on the CAS Board, and leader of this initiative.
Although the board stressed that it does not have the authority to completely ban the water bottles on campus (for instance in the athletic department), they have the authority to remove water bottles from the contract with the food vendor as a new one is signed and put into place, Courtens said.
When issues were brought up about water bottles in lunch packages provided at orientations and ones sold at graduation, David Eaton, the President’s Designee on the board, said “We’ll just have to get creative.”
With this unanimous decision from the board, the move towards sustainability efforts outweighed the inconveniences of not having the bottles readily available.
Courtens, who has been at the front of this campaign, pushing the ban for three years, said she sees this as an incredible achievement for the college and the SUNY system.
“We are setting a precedent for all other SUNYs to get on board with and that means a lot,” Courtens said. “I can graduate happy now.”
Associate sociology professor Brian Obach spoke in the public comment period to the board as one of the many locals who attended the meeting to show their support for the ban.
“This is a landmark day in New Paltz sustainability history,” Obach said. “This has been years in the making.”
In his presentation to the board, he highlighted a few facts on the environmental issues of water bottles. Approximately 1.5 million barrels of oil, enough to run 100,000 cars for a year, are used to meet the U.S. demand for plastic water bottles and three times as much water is used to produce bottled water than is actually in the bottle itself.
He also highlighted health concerns of water bottles. Chemicals called phthalates, which are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, can leach into bottled water. In addition, there are no legal limits for these chemicals in bottled water but municipal water is more highly regulated.
CAS Board off-campus elected student James Auer voted for the ban at the meeting and highlighted that it is not just an environmental issue, it’s a financial issue.
“A single bottle of water costs two dollars,” he said. “That’s an outrageous price for something that should be free.”
However not everyone is on board with this change. Fourth-year economics and political science major, Michael Schaffer said he felt this ban takes away from students ability to choose for themselves, forcing some to drink from what they may see as unsanitary fountains.
“For students who would rather drink bottled water, they should be able to do that,” he said. “One group shouldn’t force the other group to drink water the way they do.”
Recycling Club President, Melissa Iachetta said the club is willing to take on outreach to students and help with the transition and implementation campus-wide.
Schaffer said he thinks many students are going to still buy bottled drinks.
“Only now the healthiest option is no longer available,” he said. “When I eat lunch or dinner, I’m still going to get something to drink with it. If that can’t be water, it will have to be a sugary soda or juice. Now instead of being able to buy water on campus, I’ll have to buy it off campus. My actions won’t change. All the ban will do is make it harder for me to do what I am going to do anyway.”
Auer said those concerned aren’t taking into account the fact that more water stations will be provided on campus.
“It’s cheaper, it’s more sustainable,” Auer said. “The only ones that are against it are those who are too lazy to make a minor adjustment in their lives.”
Members of the board said they will be making changes to make access to water easier for everyone on campus, including the addition of hydration stations for reusable water bottles and making cups available at eateries.