H2Occupy Pushes For Campus Bottle Ban

Photo by Robin Weinstein

Some SUNY New Paltz students, faculty and staff are standing up against bottled water and working to have its sale banned on campus.

Fourth-year organizational communication major Austin Schatz and third-year psychology major Shannon Fabiani organized the H2Occupy event held on Monday, April 29 at noon in the Student Union Multi-Purpose Room.

Schatz and Fabiani are working together with the Hydration Committee to stop the sale of plastic water bottles and encourage the use of resusable ones. While the Hydration Committee is focusing on the “legislation end” of the issue, Fabiani and Schatz said they are trying to gain student support.

At colleges that have banned water bottles, such as the University of Vermont, Schatz said students were not informed about the change and were shocked and angered by it. He said the event aimed to “involve students in the decision” and educate them.

Although the ban could not be passed for two years because of the college’s contract, Fabiani said the event still had a strong purpose.

“Even just the education part would help ease out…people will now maybe start buying reusable water bottles and try to get the message across,” she said.“Even if we don’t achieve the ban goal, the message at least reaches people.”

H2Occupy acted as a petition-signing event, which also featured free reusable water bottles for the first 80 attendees, as well as speeches from Schatz, Fabiani and Brian Obach, chair of the Department of Sociology, an art show and a raffle.

The art show included student-submitted pieces, which Schatz said were either made up reused materials or “conveyed a sustainable message.” Prizes for the raffle were donated by the campus bookstore, Rhinebeck Artist’s Shop and McGillicuddy’s, Fabiani said.

Schatz spoke about the negative effects of supporting water bottle corporations.

“They are essentially corporatizing our water and turning a free resource into something that’s not free,” he said.

In terms of the environmental impact, Fabiani discussed the detrimental effects of water bottle usage, such as the “insane” amount of resources needed to make single use bottled water and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of marine debris mainly made of plastic.

She also mentioned how the ban would match the goals outlined by the Campus Sustainability Plan and the American College University President’s Climate Commitment.

Obach said he supports the ban because he believes bottled water is an unnecessary product which wastes energy and resources in its manufacturing, distribution and disposal.

“Most of those bottles never get recycled and they just add to the waste stream. We have high-quality, well-regulated municipal water systems and anyone can access it for free,” Obach said. “It is amazing that corporations have manipulated the public into believing that their product is somehow better, when in fact, in many cases, just the opposite is true.”

During the event, Obach encouraged students to join forces against what they deem wrong, and said although individual action is helpful, more can be done by working together.

“It’s good to take individual consumer action and select products that are good for us and for the environment and to avoid buying things that we know are harmful.  But as individual consumers we are weak,” he said. “As citizens acting collectively we have the strength to stand up to manipulative corporations. Together we can pass laws and policies that protect our collective interests as citizens and as inhabitants of the planet.”

On April 23, a Youtube video titled “H2Occupy SUNY New Paltz” was released. The video has garnered more than 1,400 views to date and features New Paltz students stating facts about disposable water bottles and promoting the event.

Schatz said he thinks people got excited about it and shared the video because of all the familiar faces.

“We purposely tried to get in contact with people that a lot of people would know, so that it would become clear that this is something that we all want to do,” he said.

Following the event, the petitions have been circulated by students and received more than 400 signatures, Schatz said.

The negative responses to the proposed ban have mostly come from those who rely on the convenience of bottled water, Schatz said. He said the majority of them are not informed about bottle usage and are “apathetic” toward it.

Although the Hydration Committee heavily researched hydration stations like the one in Crispell Hall, Schatz said they found them to be unsustainable, as they use a lot of energy, are costly and difficult to manage.

Obach said the college is working to create facilities that better accommodate those who bring their own reusable bottles, such as having taller spouts on water fountains.

“Ideally everyone will eventually have their own bottle and make use of those services. People who still want to waste their money on bottled water can buy them elsewhere,” he said. “But hopefully the campus ban would raise their consciousness and lead them to ask, ‘Why am I the only one drinking out of this wasteful, expensive, disposable bottle?’”

Fabiani and Schatz presented alongside the Hydration Committee at the CAS Board meeting on Wednesday. They proposed renovating the current water fountains with gooseneck additions and Fabiani said their message was well received.

“They are really excited about the gooseneck idea and eager to work on the logistics of it all and begin installing them,” Fabiani said. “Overall, the CAS Board is in favor of the ban and phasing out the sale of disposable plastic water bottles from campus. We are all continuing to work in this direction towards creating a more sustainable New Paltz.”

In the end, Schatz said a major part of this endeavor is that New Paltz would be the first SUNY school to put this ban into action and could serve as a model for other institutions.

“A really big part of this is that we would be the first SUNY school to make this change and the ultimate goal of this would be to start an avalanche effect of other SUNY schools supporting it,” he said. “I think if we were to make this change it would say a lot about our values as a school and it would just set a really good example for all the SUNY schools.”