Water Crisis Sheds Light on Flawed Plastic Water Bottle Ban

When an oil spill caused by a compromised fuel line led to a do not drink advisory regarding all tap water being issued by the Village of New Paltz, SUNY New Paltz administration did a lot of things right. From notifying all students and faculty immediately, to postponing classes and sending students home as soon as safety became a concern, to updating students each day of the impromptu break with the latest available information — right up until last Friday, when the advisory was lifted and students were told that classes would resume Monday as planned. 

We commend SUNY New Paltz for their handling of this week-long water crisis, and applaud all those involved with keeping students safe and informed. 

As students return back to campus and the spring semester gets back on track, some students are rightfully weary of drinking water supplied by the Village. In FAQs posted on both the SUNY New Paltz and New York State Department of Health websites, it is clearly stated that multiple tests have concluded that the water is safe for cooking, cleaning and bathing. Still, the knowledge that there were, at once, traces of oil floating around in the water supply may cause some students to feel uneasy drinking it for the remainder of the semester. 

Unfortunately for students who live on campus, their options when it comes to water are slim. Beginning the fall 2015 semester, Campus Auxiliary Services has honored a referendum passed by the Student Association that disallows the sale of single-use plastic water bottles across campus, including all dining locations and vending machines (the agreement, however, allows an exception in cases of emergency, like last week’s).

This means that students who live on campus and feel uncomfortable drinking the Village water following the crisis must stock up on cases of water in their room, or get themselves into town each time they need a drink after the gallon of water provided by the school to each resident student upon returning runs dry. 

Though we applaud SUNY New Paltz for taking environmental action, there are some obvious flaws to the ban. The ban was originally put in place to cut down on plastic use and, in turn, plastic waste on campus, a very valid move that certainly saw less waste caused by the college. However, the contract only banned the sale of plastic bottles of still water — soda, juice, sparkling water and other beverages are still fully stocked and for sale across campus. 

While the reasoning may have been that water is by far the beverage with the most demand, meaning its elimination would cause the largest decrease in plastic use on campus, it still seems strange to sell all other beverages in plastic containers. If a student is thirsty and finds themselves without a reusable bottle, they will most likely want to purchase a water bottle. Upon finding out that water is unavailable for purchase, it would make the most sense that they simply purchase an alternative beverage. 

Water isn’t only sold in plastic bottles. One brand, Boxed Water Is Better, has become extremely popular for their environmentally friendly water, cased in a paper carton instead of a plastic bottle. This is an eco-friendly alternative that be considered, as it would provide students with purified water to purchase on campus, as well as keep our campuses use of single-use plastics down. 

During the week off, SUNY New Paltz announced in an email that canned water was delivered to all vending machines around campus — what is the problem with this becoming a mainstay? 

We ask that campus administration reconsiders the ban of water sold on campus, at least until we are far enough removed from the oil spill that students once again feel unquestionably safe drinking water provided by the Village. Alternatives to single-use plastic bottles exist for sale, and if this isn’t a possibility, there are plenty of ways our campus can be eco-friendly to make up for the sale of water.