Girl drinking bottled water in college library

Study: Bans, Restrictions on Bottled Water in College is Misguided

May 18, 2016

College campuses have traditionally been hotbeds of intellectual activism as student movements protest against so many of society’s seeming injustices, hoping to right the wrongs and make life cleaner, purer, nobler and healthier.

Bottled water in college campuses has been placed high in the sights of protesters, prompting so much outrage about its apparent damaging environmental impact and alleged spurious health claims that campus leaders have banned or restricted its sale.

Recent research and studies, however, paint a very different picture of bottled water’s place in human health and the environment and prove that academia’s zeal has led to some unintended consequences.

Restrictions Producing More Waste, Unhealthy Habits

Research published in the American Journal of Public Health concludes that efforts to restrict the use of bottled water in college campuses have resulted in a rise in consumption of unhealthy drinks and in the amount of plastic bottles in waste streams.

The study, “The Unintended Consequences of Changes in Beverage Options and the Removal of Bottled Water on a University Campus,” examined the aftermath following last year’s restrictions at the University of Vermont. The consumption of sugary drinks rose by 33 percent and 6 percent more plastic bottles were found in disposal sites.

Research reflects the tendency of college residents to choose less healthy beverages with sugar, caffeine or other additives when bottled water is unavailable in vending machines.

Students tend to choose less healthy beverages with sugar, caffeine & other additives when bottled water is unavailable.

“The data show that per capita shipments of bottles, calories, sugars and added sugars increased significantly when bottled water was removed,” said Chris Hogan, Vice President of Communications for the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).

“Shipments of healthy beverages declined significantly, whereas shipments of less healthy beverages increased significantly. As bottled water sales dropped to zero, sales of sugar-free beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages increased.”

Hogan acknowledged that efforts to create more environmentally friendly and health-conscious environments on campuses are noble, but misdirected.

“These bans are a misguided attempt to deal with a waste issue that would be better addressed through efforts to increase the recycling rates of all packaged drinks,” said Hogan. “Bottled water containers are the most highly recycled containers in curbside programs, and data derived from EPA figures demonstrates that plastic water bottles make up less than one-third of one percent of the U.S. waste stream. So, getting rid of bottled water in college campuses will not make a significant improvement to waste issues.”

Hogan said the restrictions also stymie freedom of choice. “Telling students that they cannot buy bottled water is a step backwards, especially with the growing rates of obesity and diabetes in the U.S.”

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