A University of Connecticut student has formed an initiative titled “Take Back the Tap” that aims to end the sale of bottled water on campus by petitioning the board of trustees.
“As members of the University of Connecticut community, we seek to reduce the use of bottled water on campus,” their petition reads. “We are calling on the board of trustees to invest in well-maintained water fill stations in public spaces and provide reusable water bottles for students, faculty and staff, and end the sale of water bottles on campus.
Sarah Hill, the initiative organizer and a third-semester environmental studies major, said the petition organizers’ ultimate goal is not only to end the sale of bottled water on campus, but to ensure that all students have access to safe, healthy and free water.
“UConn as a university prides itself on being environmentally friendly, and while this is great, I believe that if there is any opportunity to be more sustainable, we should (take the opportunity),” Hill said. “A lot of my belief for why this is such an important goal is also because of the harmful nature of bottled water and the narrative that people have been told.”
Hill said the group is not officially a club yet, and she has been mainly working on getting students involved, forming a core membership and getting the petition circulating.
However, Hill has been talking with various on-campus clubs and organizations to help get the word out and plan events, she said.
“I started by talking to Eco House, EcoHusky, I’ve now talked to PIRG and am beginning to talk to the Office of Environmental Policy,” Hill said. “I did my first class rap for the initiative (on Oct. 12) and collected 55 signatures for the petition. We are planning to start petitioning outside, as we are a public university and can do that whether we’re a club at the school or not.”
In the future, Hill said she is hoping the group will officially partner with UConnPIRG or EcoHusky to table for more petition signatures and to hold events such as a water-tasting event to compare tap and bottled water and a screening of the movie “Tapped.”
Hill hopes people get involved with Take Back the Tap both because she believes it’s an important cause and because of what she believes individuals will gain personally from being a part of it.
“Not only is it a great thing to do and an opportunity to help both the planet and other people, but it’s also just a great opportunity for yourself,” Hill said. “Campaign experience is great to have and getting involved at the grassroots level right now will feel amazing and be great experience to possibly help in other areas of your life.”
“It can be scary to hear about the predictions that are coming out based around climate change and global warming, but we have to think back to what we can do and what impact we can have,” Hill said.
Though Hill is hoping to ban the sale of plastic water bottles, UConn has a contract with Coca-Cola that could potentially impact the success of her petition.
“Coca Cola has exclusive pouring rights (at UConn), is what we call it,” Matt Larson, associate vice president and chief procurement officer at the Office of the Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer, said. “They have exclusivity for any of the bottled beverages on campus. If you go to the marketplace, you’ll see an 80/20 split, where 20 percent is for open beverages that Coke does not offer.”
Larson said though there isn’t a specific line item in the contract requiring that UConn sell Coke bottled water, the area where Coke and other beverage companies are most profitable is their bottled water sales.
“In the contract itself, I think it’s all the Coke products is how it’s listed,” Larson said. “If there was a sentiment or a thought to ban bottled water through or on the campus, we would contractually have a challenge with Coke on that, as obviously the contract doesn’t provide for that, they’re trying to sell everything.”
Larson said that students who are hoping to ban the sale of plastic water bottles need to recognize the financial consequences of doing so.
“There has to be some consideration of the financial impact of a decision like that as well, especially in today’s times, with the budget constraints that all of us are under, that should be at least recognized,” Larson said. “Any of the profits from (the contractual) relationship actually end up going back into the central fund, toward operational expenditures and cost. So if the plan is to ban bottled water, then it would have that financial impact.”
Larson said that ultimately, his office exists to support the wants and needs of UConn’s student community.
“From my perspective is, part of my responsibility is to make sure that we’re offering a proper choice to all of it,” Larson said. “Yet if there’s a decision by the community and the university to make that change, then my job is to support that change or that decision.”
Gabriella DeBenedictis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.