A bottled water free campus

Instead of rummaging in pockets for change and lining up at vending machines, students will soon fill reusable bottles at new and improved drinking fountains—virtually for free. The Ministry of Environment celebrated the second annual Bottled Water Free Day on March 10. Bottled water was removed from vendors on campus for the week to promote the use of reusable bottles.

In partnership with the university administration, 1,300 free reusable bottles were distributed and over 1,500 student surveys were completed to work towards a bottled water free campus. Interested students attended an information booth set up by the Ministry of Environment in the Student Centre.

Rahul Mehta, a student and environmentalist, conducted taste tests to actively demonstrate the misconceptions of tap water to students. Four samples from four reusable bottles were provided and students were asked to identify which reusable bottle contained tap water. Each student guessed a different bottle, all insisting that their choice must be tap water. After discussing their options and describing the taste of the different samples of water, Mehta unveiled the answer—all bottles had been filled from the same tap.

“There’s a stigma against water fountains, so we want to market the use of reusable bottles and spread awareness that they’re much better for you and the environment,” said Dan Dicenzo, a second year biophysics student. “We’re trying to get the administration to install these fountains, especially in high-traffic areas on campus. It’s one of the best ways to promote the use of reusable bottles and make it more convenient for students.”

Dicenzo has spoken with Bill McFadden, Director of Hospitality and Retail Services at UTM, about outfitting campus with improved water fountains. These new fountains are not only equipped with drinking spouts, but also a station to refill bottles, similar to water dispensers found on refrigerator doors. Each fountain costs $2,200, according to Dicenzo. In the long term, this will cost the university less money than it does to contract, power, and maintain vending machines

Each time plastic is recycled, it goes through a process called “downcycling”. The molecules of the plastic break down and produce poorer quality plastic, causing chemicals to seep into the water.

“Even though we live in a country where there is so much fresh water available to us, we have to learn to be stewards of our water and conserve it and manage it well so that future generations don’t have to deal with this issue of contaminated water,” Mehta said. “Corrupt bottled water companies sell us back our own water.”

Ten universities in Canada have become bottled water free, adding more fountains and decreasing the accessibility and sale of bottled water. As a symbol of the administration’s commitment to the campaign, vice president and principal Deep Saini signed the pledge to ditch bottled water in favour of reusable bottles.

“It is incumbent upon us as a society to reduce our human footprint on this planet,” said Saini. “If we can reduce our dependence on bottled water, we can help the environment and live healthier lives. As a former environment dean, I wholeheartedly support this initiative.”

The campaign is sponsored by the Canadian Federation of Students in partnership with the Polaris Institute.

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