Student’s Corner

At the most recent Dining Committee Meeting, dining’s Team Green gave a stimulating and informative presentation about how they have started the somewhat lengthy process of banning plastic water bottles on campus. The team members have conducted water taste tests, tested and collected data on water fountains in all campus buildings, and spoke to various students and student groups about their opinions on the ban. Not only do plastic water bottles take thousands of years to decompose, their production uses millions of barrels of oil, and about 3 times more water than the amount actually inside the bottle. In addition, 22% of tested water brands contain dangerously high levels of chemical contaminants.

To read more about the ban the bottle initiative, check out Over 90 Universities and colleges have already been successful at banning the sale plastic water bottles on their campuses, and Team Green has been researching their methods, as implementation varies from school to school. The initiative certainly has its pros and cons, but when the floor was opened up for questions and comments, few students seemed concerned about losing the ability to purchase bottled water on campus. One student was incredulous that there were be any opposition, since as a whole it seems like a mainly positive initiative that will make the university more sustainable. When a senior student expressed concern over having to purchase unhealthy drinks in the event that she forgot her bottle, Team Green noted that there will always be loopholes; students can still buy a Venti plastic Starbucks cup full of water or fill a cup from the Pit. However, they hoped that by distributing reusable water bottles to students, that few will rely on these options. In addition, they stressed that all other drinks will continue to be available, including flavored water. If successful, the Ban the Bottle program will take effect in 2014.


Written by Leslie Wolf, Class of 2015

23 Replies to “Student’s Corner”

  1. Michael,

    I’m glad that you pointed out that recycling isn’t actually “good” for the environment, and as an environmentalist I would agree with you. It’s only marginally better than just shipping the plastic to a landfill. However, the best option would be to use reusable items rather than disposable or recyclable items. This is what the water bottle ban is trying to implement. Why water and not all sugary drinks? Clean water is available to students. Soda doesn’t come out of the drinking fountains. Would it be better for the health of people and the planet if we banned all plastic bottles? Yes, but in trying to preserve people’s right to choose as well as implementing more sustainable practices we have to find a balance. If Team Green gives students free water bottles I don’t see how there could be a problem.

    The first step to improve the way we interact with our planet is to realize that our very existence has negative impacts on the environment, and that everything we do will cause some harm. This doesn’t mean that we should all stop existing, but it allows us to see that in order to preserve life as we like to enjoy it we must make the best choices we can, when available. The most important thing about this proposal to ban water bottles isn’t a successful campaign, it is getting people to think about the reasons behind such a proposal. Students who purchase bottled water aren’t being lazy or bad people, but they are simply making a choice without fully realizing the impacts of that choice. Ban the bottle’s purpose is to get people to think about the impacts of a simple choice such as the purchase of bottled water. When people can think about small choices on such a thorough level, they can begin to look at larger choices, such as driving to school rather than biking or taking the bus.

    It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being better. Do the best you can until you know better. Then, do better.

    And to those who posted negative comments above, please don’t be so hard on Team Green. They are people trying to make life better for themselves and for you. If you have a better idea, do something about it. The only way to continue to make the best choices is if you actively engage in finding the solutions. Being pessimistic and negative about the ideas of others is only constructive if you can help them to pursue what you believe to be the better choice.

  2. Matthais,

    You ask, “Couldn’t your time and effort be used much more efficiently in some other area where change would produce a big effect?”

    I actually completely agree with you that are other projects Team Green could try that probably would have a larger environmental impact than this ban. (I am not a part of Team Green therefore I had no part in the decision to pursue this proposed ban and it is not using my time and effort.) But I defend them because they are a student run group and therefore have no formal political power to influence those who make the decisions on campus that could have true environmental impact. In my response to Mr. Rizzo above, I elaborate on possible ideas of how Green Team could propose radical ideas to policy makers on campus to bring about true change. But considering their scope as college students, this ban seems to be a valid project. Although it might not have a huge impact, I don’t belittle them for trying.

    Matthias, you infuriate me because are confusing two distinct ’cause and effects’ and using them interchangeably to make your argument. I will try to explain. Let us say that cause and effect ONE is: if a ban of plastic water bottles is imposed at U of R, then it will cause a social impact towards sustainability in the U of R community (and a tiny global environmental impact). And Cause and effect TWO is that: if 100% Social Change in America towards using sustainable water bottles happens, then it will cause a drastic decrease in demand for water bottles nationally. Understand this: Cause and Effect ONE, can not cause Cause and Effect TWO. If the U of R ban happens, it CAN NOT cause 100% social change in America. It just won’t, no matter how hard Team Green works. Thus the U of R ban also cannot cause a huge drop in disposable water bottle demand, in turn causing your erroneous speculation that water will not be able to reach disaster sites because of this. Your argument is fundamentally flawed because you base your reason against the ban at U of R off your speculation of what effect 100% social change in America will cause. Since one does not lead to another, the whole point is moot. Does this make sense? It is difficult to explain.

    So see when you ask, “If it’s not 100% then what level are you aiming for? What’s the “appropriate” level?” Team Green is not aiming for a national level what so ever. They are a Campus Student Group that wants to promote the idea of sustainability in their small community. But if you are asking hypothetically what the country should accomplish through a huge national education campaign focused on sustainability, well I think that an 80% – 90% halt in disposable water bottle use over the next five years would be a great goal.

    (And again, this would not cause water bottle companies to become any less efficient in delivering bottles to stores. Can you explain why you think that a smaller water bottle industry would be less capable at transporting goods? Why also would you want them to turn extra profit from price gouging? Price gouging is illegal because it unfairly takes advantage the people. The company does not need that extra profit, but takes it because it is greedy. It is usually not the company that gains extra profit from price gouging either, but the individual store that sells its goods for more than what it cost them.)

    So to your final question, “What is the purpose of banning water bottles or having a social change if little changes because of it?” Well, this is where MY speculation comes into play. Although I am not part of the Green Team, I think their intended social impact of the proposed water bottle ban is the sharing of the idea ‘reusable over disposable’ on campus. Hopefully this will cause the people affected by the ban to learn about sustainable choices and continue making these responsible decisions in all of their actions. I speculate that this social impact will eventually have a great environmental impact as each person who choses to be sustainable continues to live the rest of their lives making responsible environmental decisions and inspiring others to do the same. Together they will have the potential of creating lasting environmental impact.

    Unlike your speculation, this theory I think follows logically from the proposed ban. Please let me know if you see flaws in my reasoning. After all, this really is just an educated guess as to what I think might happen.

  3. Bystander,

    So even with a 100% social change of using bottled water (if it’s not 100% then what level are you aiming for? What’s the “appropriate” level?), you argue that water bottle companies won’t change their structure. “Bottles would be produced in factories and sent to stores where they would be stocked and sold freely.” So then what is the purpose of banning water bottles or having a social change if little changes because of it? Couldn’t your time and effort be used much more efficiently in some other area where change would produce a big effect?

    As a side note, anti-price gouging laws would further reduce the capabilities of “diaster-only” water bottle companies as they would not be profiting as much due to the price ceiling.

  4. Matthias,

    To begin, we are both speaking of this situation hypothetically since neither of us can know the true outcome of a 100% social embrace of reusable water bottles (which in all respects is highly unlikely). However, it seems that you envision the outcome would cause water bottle companies to radically change how they operate – leaving all of their water bottles in a warehouse somewhere and shipping them to disaster zones while paying drivers and workers to wait around for the disasters to occur.

    I’m not sure why you think this will happen. If hypothetically this 100% social change situation did happen and everyone who had access to piped water utilized reusable water bottles, the structure of the water bottle industry likely would largely remain the same. Bottles would be produced in factories and sent to stores where they would be stocked and sold freely. It would be the same as now in the sense that stores would always be stocked for people to go buy, and in the event that there is a storm demand would go up causing more bottles to be shipped to that location. It would be just as quick and just as capable as the system is today.

    The only difference in this hypothetical situation of 100% social change would be the reduction of demand due to people not using disposable bottles when they are completely unnecessary.

    You argue as well that it is illogical to reduce usage of water bottles in comparison to other negative environmental goods because water bottles are what provide relief from the very disasters indirectly caused by the production and distribution of these products. Quite interesting. As just discussed above, its is highly unlikely that consumer impact on the water bottle industry will ever cripple companies to the point where they can not produce and distribute water bottles to those who need it. And water bottles are probably focused on over other goods because they are both omnipresent and easily replaced by a reusable compliment. Yes, other less-sustainable goods that have more-sustainable compliments must be reduced as well, but water bottles are a place to start. It is also why the goal of the ban is to implement the idea of ‘reusable over disposable’ that can be transferred in the consumption of a host of other goods. I hope this dispels your questions as to ‘why’ water bottles and the concern that if people use less of them, companies will not be able to provide disaster areas with clean water. That speculation does not seem likely.

    And just to clarify, when I said, “Regardless of what social change takes place, if there is a DEMAND for water bottles from places like disaster areas, then the market will create a SUPPLY for it.” I do not mean the microeconomics of specific disasters in themselves, but the long term demand created by a steady need for water bottles for storms major and minor that take place constantly around the world. (Again I stress that this is all hypothetical, therefore I don’t really know what will happen just merely projecting on my knowledge of economics.) Price spikes you refer to in disaster zones are CAUSED by the free market when the immediate demand for a necessary good far outstrips its supply allowing the price to rise uncontrollably. However the practice of is price gouging is illegal in America, therefore price inflation of water bottles is not something that need be worried about. Try wikipediaing it.

  5. “Because that is how a free market works.”

    There is no such thing as a free market in disaster areas. See: “price gouging”

  6. “Regardless of what social change takes place, if there is a DEMAND for water bottles from places like disaster areas, then the market will create a SUPPLY for it.”

    That, my friend, is incorrect.

  7. Bystander,

    How is this market for bottled water (the one created by demand soley from disaster areas) going to be as capable of providing clean water as quickly as the market we have now? You would need a huge stock of water already produced and packaged, the trucks (and drivers) simply waiting for a disaster to take place. A myriad of other workers would also be sitting around in the factory. Would you you invest in a company that operated under the business plan “wating for the disaster”?

    “Do you want a system of water pipelines so that we can pump water everywhere around the country?” yes. Most certainly we do. And actually I will take a wild guess that since 1) we live in the 21st century and 2) we are the wealthiest nation on earth, almost every inhabited area in our country not recovering from a disaster likely already has access to running water. Therefore, in theory, most people should already have easy access to this, ‘good necessary for life,’ without using a disposable water bottle. What a coincidence, wouldn’t you say?”

    The system of pipeline I’m referring to would be a system that can transport water from one place in the country to anywhere else in country (and it, itself would have to be impervious to a natural disater). I am not discussing our current water system (which yes, I realize everywhere in U.S. pretty much has runnung water). I am simply challenging the logic of emissions causes global warming. Global warming causes more intense and more frequent storms. We should threrfore reduce our use of plastic water bottles because of the emissions in production and transport. Under that logic, bottled water should be the last thing we reduce (all things being equal), as it provides clean water quickly to those who need it.

  8. Matthias,
    You make the argument that complete social change towards utilizing reusable water bottles will obliterate the bottle industry, leaving locations without pipeline infrastructure no means of obtaining fresh water (in particular disaster zones effected by super storms).

    This argument is incorrect regarding the purpose of social change and also completely ignorant of how basic economics work. (Sorry I don’t mean to be harsh.)

    Regardless of what social change takes place, if there is a DEMAND for water bottles from places like disaster areas, then the market will create a SUPPLY for it. Because that is how a free market works. If everybody who has access to piped water stops using disposable bottles, yet disaster areas still need them, well the market will reach an equilibrium that matches the smaller demand. It will not shut down as you speculate.

    The object of social change anyways is NOT to shut down an industry, but to merely implement the idea that reusable is superior to disposable and reduce demand for less-sustainable goods as much as possible. If you are somewhere, such as Western New York, that HAS pipelines, and HAS clean free water, and HAS reusable bottles, what is the reason under that circumstance to use disposable bottles?

    Finally, in response to this question you seem to ask in a incredulous tone, “Do you want a system of water pipelines so that we can pump water everywhere around the country?” yes. Most certainly we do. And actually I will take a wild guess that since 1) we live in the 21st century and 2) we are the wealthiest nation on earth, almost every inhabited area in our country not recovering from a disaster likely already has access to running water. Therefore, in theory, most people should already have easy access to this, ‘good necessary for life,’ without using a disposable water bottle. What a coincidence, wouldn’t you say?

  9. I’m going to assume that many people believe that global warming is causing huge storms and that these big storms will only increase in the future. They also believe that much damage has already been done to the environment (ie. if man stopped producing everything right now, we would still suffer the enviornmental consequences of our past for years to come). For argument’s sake, let’s pretend that there is this wave of social change and nobody buys bottled water anymore. So now what happens when these storms destroy cities/towns and the water supply of these areas? What system would be in place to get people in disaster areas the water they need to survive? You can’t just fire up the ole water bottled factory. Do you want a system of water pipelines so that we can pump water everywhere around the country? Shouldn’t water bottle companies be the LAST enemy of the environmental movement? They are porviding a good that is necessary for life. Unless you want to argue that global warming isn’t that bad? But then why would you care about the emissions during the prodcution and transport of water bottles in the first place?


    It seems that the general consensus of the comments here is that this ban is a bad idea because of its tiny, if any at all, immediate environmental impact. However, it can be argued that if Team Green properly portrays the ideas behind WHY they are attempting this ban, the social impact will in time effect human behavior, indirectly causing a proportionate positive environmental impact. (Again this argument is not backed by research, but I will support it in the abstract.)

    Forget all of the landfill or greenhouse gas facts for a moment and focus on this: The very core idea Team Green seems to by trying to convey by this ban is that using ANY reusable product is more environmentally sustainable than consuming one-time-use products. This simple idea cannot be disputed as a way to increase sustainability (do I need to explain that?) and should be regarded by everyone who is asking, as to the answer to ‘why’ Team Green is proposing the ban. Yes, the truth is that U of R’s contribution to plastic waste globally is likely infinitesimally small, and yes, banning the bottles not really going to change demand for plastic water bottles, especially because there are so many complimentary goods such as sugary drinks that also come in plastic bottles. But these are not the reasons this ban should go through. It should go through for its social impact; because it will spread the idea of ‘reusable over disposable’ to students and implement that idea in their daily lives. It will in theory cause social change towards sustainability in personal daily living. This societal effect is one that will not produce instant ecological change, but has the potential to create truly lasting environmental impacts far beyond the water bottle industry and the U of R if people influenced by it now continue to live their lives with that idea in mind.

    But let me address this as well: Is the ban necessary? Quite frankly it is not. Team Green could accomplish the same social change with a very aggressive ad campaign, perhaps giving out free water bottles, staging protests outside of stores where disposable plastic is sold (basically everywhere), and creating an atmosphere on campus that degrades those who continue to use disposable products that are easily replaced by reusable ones. And if effective, this would cause the demand for plastic water bottles on campus to drop drastically and over time possibly cause the university to stop supplying plastic water bottles due to its cost ineffectiveness.

    Why the ban then? Because it jump-starts the process. If humans can’t purchase the disposable bottles as they normally do, then they are forced to make a choice – find a reusable water bottle and fill it up, or buy a sugary drink. Of course some people will go ahead and buy the drink, but others will not. And as stated before, if Team Green does this properly, they will explain to the people WHY this luxury commodity should be given up, and spread the idea that reusable is much better for the environment than disposable. Stopping the University’s supply of plastic bottles through economic means would take years of hard work creating social change strong enough to drive down demand. A ban could accomplish the social change (the true goal) in months.

    I am honestly warmed by that fact that there are so many intellectuals posting here that see through the exaggerations of the immediate environmental impact this ban would cause which are spread in order to garnish support for it. But I implore you to see the ban the way I do. I do not support this ban because there are some thirty odd billion water bottles in a land fill somewhere. I do not support the ban because creating bottles takes massive amounts of energy that is three times the amount in the bottle. Reducing these negative environmental effects are merely perks that come with the true goal of implementing lasting social change. Showing people that even though you might ‘like’ plastic water bottles, sometimes you have to see beyond yourself and what you like and realize that when there are two options – using a reusable (sustainable) item or a disposable (unsustainable) item, the responsible choice is to pick the sustainable one. The time has come to stop being selfish and take a tiny bit for responsibility for your actions that effect the earth you live upon, the people who live beside you, and the children who will inherit the earth after you are gone. That is, or should be, the true goal of this ban and it is why I support it. I do not ask you to support it as well, but just to see the logic behind why I do and take that into consideration. I welcome rebuttals to my position eagerly.

    As a final point however, I would like to speak to the fact that many people have argued here that this ban does really nothing and therefore proposed ideas Team Green should be pursuing instead. It should be remembered that Team Green is a student run group for whom it might be difficult to instate carbon taxes, stop a global coffee shop from using cups, or persuade people to use horse drawn carriages instead of cars, however great those ideas are. It seems like they are doing what they can with what they have, and without your help.

  11. Quick note- I am very pleased that this post has spurred serious debate. However, only so much can be accomplished by arguing in the comments section. If you feel strongly about the Ban the Bottle initiative, please feel free to contact Team Green (manager: and let them know, as they are still eager for feedback.


  12. If we actually want to take environmental issues seriously, we need to realize the difference between good intentions and good outcomes. Our university has a history of promoting expensive, wasteful, and un-researched initiatives in its desire to “Go Green” (see Eco-Bench), resulting in funds and energy being spent to promote mere symbols of sustainability. These symbols are NOT harmless, since the money spent could have been used elsewhere (like…I don’t know…maybe to improve student lives?).

    Leslie, the environmental issues you raise are serious, but if we actually want to solve or mitigate them, we need to be serious as well.

    The floating island of trash in the Pacific is a catastrophe, but by banning water bottles at the University of Rochester, we aren’t fixing it. Remember that we live in Western New York. The imagery of the floating plastic island surely invokes passion for the environment, but we need to direct that passion positively. Our ban will not change world demand for bottled water. It may not even change student behavior here. We may end up seeing many students substitute away from bottled water to flavored water and/or more soda. Why not ban those? Why not ban cups from Starbucks? Smartphones are nasty for the environment, why not ban those as well? We (usually) don’t ban these things because we have accepted that the happiness/utility they give us is greater than social cost of consuming such goods. The dumping of toxic sludge does not fall into this category. Bottled drinks (whether water or anything else) do fall into this category.

    The emission savings statistic you estimated is equivalent to about 50 tons of greenhouse gas. For comparison, the average American produces 22 tons of carbon dioxide yearly. I cringe to think about how much energy our university actually uses and wastes, but I can guarantee that 50 tons is an infinitesimally small proportion of our overall energy use. Why not cut our football program and never use the lights in Fauver? That would likely save a lot more.

    The point being, if we actually want to make a difference, we need to COMPLETELY rethink our lives. “A Bystander” made an interesting point about having to start somewhere, with somewhere being the giving up of certain luxury goods. This may be the case, however I think many of us are okay with starting while not knowing where the finish line is. Almost everything we do is completely “unsustainable.” In order to actually make a difference, we would all need to drastically cut back on our consumption and quality of life (or wait till others ban all the things we like). Anything else is merely symbolic.

  13. Hi I am living in the Netherlands,and I always trough my plastic bottles in an plastic container.When I see an picture like you show me I am very angry.We are now living on a beautiful earth,let”s keep it Clean for the people after us.I hope that everybody read what I write and think about it.

  14. Mr. Rizzo, you bring up valid, and in my opinion, heartwarming suggestions. You speak about a truth that nearly everyone in America does not want to hear – the fact that we are hoodwinking ourselves into believing we are tackling mounting environmental issues (energy use, carbon emissions, waste disposal, etc.) with action that is pathetically insufficient. Not only that, but continuing to back uninspired ideas and poorly researched processes that eat away at our resources. This is not just an opinion, but an argument I can qualitatively support by research and analysis of global political actions and their effects taken place over the last decade. Americans fortify themselves in the lie that they are ‘making a difference’ with say, as you mention, water-bottle bans or curbside recycling, or even more absurdly something like minimizing light pollution, in order to more easily ignore the truly hard decisions and actions that must be taken to rightly tackle homo sapiens’ destructive reign upon the earth. Your suggestions are visionary.

    However, you must agree that they are also completely impractical and unattainable at the student body leadership level.

    How would you suggest that the campus ‘Team Green’ go about implementing a carbon tax? or switching classes to 10:00 pm? These are fantastic ideas that spearhead drastically reducing U of R’s environmental impact, but are perhaps difficult for a student group to achieve. They could start petitions to raise awareness for the ideas, or even compile and present to a board of school directors comprehensive research in lasting effects, showing demonstrable damages and rewards, cost benefit, health benefits, and of course how and why these actions are ‘sustainable.’ But this is hard work. And as stated above, a lot of people don’t want to face the difficult actions that must take place and it takes true effort to make those in power see the problem.

    And not to be overly foreword, because I don’t know you and you don’t know me and I don’t know what you do, but can I tentatively ask, why aren’t you there helping them? You claim to be serious about the environment and at heart these students proposing this water bottle ban seem to be as well. You have visionary ideas that could inspire them and potentially set in motion a new generation of students who think like you; who question the ideas we are told to believe and ask why? why are we doing this? what should really be done? What is accomplished by sarcastically debating a student blogger? (Well actually something is accomplished because it does get ideas out there, it did open my mind, and was entertaining, so thank you.) But it appears that you and ‘Team Green’ want the same thing, and adversity seems to be creating hard feelings, not a forward movement here.

    I would like to add one final point that you likely will disagree with me upon. It is of my own personal opinion not backed by academic study; therefore I do not claim it to be of scholastic significance. But this is a blog not a paper so I guess I can say whatever I want.

    The environmental impact of banning plastic water bottles will be minimalistic due to its economic constraints. The ‘damage’ caused by plastic bottles that I assume this author implies trickles down from the energy costs of producing the bottles and disposing them (including the energy of biological decomposition). Ideally, if U of R banned the use of bottles, the overall national or global demand for their production and disposal would fall perhaps .01%, causing companies in the plastic bottle business to lower supply and thus reduce the energy cost a small amount. As you aptly point out, this is a poor repercussion and thus it seems like the real reason this ban is going foreword is because people ‘like’ the idea of it. However, to a certain degree it can be argued that the true ‘goodness’ from the proposed ban lies not in its economic or environmental impact, but in its social impact. If, in fact the ban goes through, it will force humans on campus to live without a luxury commodity; forced to fill a reusable bottle at a fountain instead of purchasing a new one at the store (oh the horror). And if Team Green plays it out correctly, awareness should be raised as to the reason WHY this commodity is relinquished (it’s likely to be magnified or exaggerated for justification as per norm), but two things will happen socially in the U of R community. 1) Increased awareness of human impact on the environment and 2) the subconscious spread of this idea: in order to change human environmental impact, luxury items might have to be given up and hard actions taken. If right now a sweeping reform were to take place enforcing Saturday as a No Drive Day and hot showers over four minutes charged 50cents a minute, well frankly people would balk! People would be mad. Social change almost always comes in slow and steady movements that keep the masses happy unless its a wartime coup. Social change is precisely the thing needed to correct our impact on the environment. This ban is a start in the right direction. If this can happen, well maybe next year bike lanes can replace some roads, and perhaps the year after a passive solar building will be commissioned. Although the Ban’s immediate environmental impact might be somewhat small, it is still something, which is always better than nothing; and more importantly, its social impact is the first stone in the very long pathway that must be built on the path of global environmental reconstruction.

  15. I respectfully disagree that this ban is being implemented because people merely like the idea. First of all, the giant floating island of trash in the Pacific is composed of a great deal of plastic bottles. Floating plastic waste, which sticks around for thousands of years, can disrupt habitats by transporting invasive species. In addition, plastic has been responsible for the mutilation or death of many animals. You justified the CFC ban by admitting that it was a violation of property, so isn’t this similar? In one case, the atmosphere, in another, the ocean/ecosystems?
    Also, I’d like to address the fact that plastic bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which requires petroleum. Shipping the bottles also requires fossil fuels. U of R goes through well over 100,000 plastic water bottles each year, but for argument and calculations’ sake, let’s say 100,000. So if the ban passes, and we no longer use the same amount of disposable plastic bottles, we will have decreased our greenhouse gas emissions by 105821 pounds in four years. We’d also be saving gallons and gallons of oil and water. Maybe the decrease is not a gigantic amount, but this movement is gaining popularity, and who is to say how great a decrease in greenhouse gases is necessary to justify an initiative like this?
    Are the emissions and resource use not “evidence of damage”?
    In terms of public health, tap water is strictly regulated and tested. The same regulations do not apply to bottled water, as the NRDC pointed out in a four year study (one of the cases that they examine is the benzene found in Perrier in 1990).
    I read your blog as well (I notice that you chose to belittle this post in your most recent post), and it is obvious you are against doing things just because the act may look or feel good. I agree. All of these issues to me appear significant, not just a “symbol” of sustainability for the university.

    Regarding CFCs, I didn’t mention the “big hole”, but perhaps it was presumptuous of me to assume that all readers knew that ozone depletion presents serious health risks for humans including skin cancer, as well as disrupting plant growth and various ecosystems.

    I am curious about your claim that recycling “destroys materials”. Do you have data to support this argument?


  16. Actually, this movement, and I presume the author DOES find the logic of “liking stuff” compelling. Since there is no environmental reason to ban bottles (show me evidence of damage, I already showed you evidence that putting them in landfills is no particular cost as compared to recycling and I’d encourage you to examine whether landfills cause environmental harm), then what other reason is there to ban them except that we like the idea?

    The point of the piece is that folks around here just “like” the idea of banning bottles. I don’t see how any particular preference ought to be privileged. But do we not also like playing our guitars? Or traveling the world? And hiking? And skiing? Not any of those things is “sustainable”, especially the flying around the world part of traveling. On what grounds would “liking” those things mean we ought not ban them, but “liking” water bottles is not a very compelling argument? Perhaps we can buy carbon offsets for our flying; couldn’t we buy similar offsets for our bottles?

    And the issue of CFCs in the ozone layer, as you illustrate, makes my point. There was demonstrable damage (for fun you might show your readers what this was, not just saying there was a big hole, but what problems it caused health and otherwise), and a violation of property from CFC emissions – therefore the benefits of global coordination via the Montreal Protocol very likely were worth any costs such a program imposed.

    And you admit the banning of the bottles to have a small (if any) impact. So is there any importance being attached to the fact that it’s a good idea to just ban stuff? Mayor Bloomberg is getting used to doing stuff like this, so it’s not exactly a harmless precedent.

    But, like you, I claim to be serious about the environment, which is why I ask the questions I do. And yes, in all seriousness, if you really think banning bottles is actually going to do any good, then why stop at bottles? I would support a petition to ban cars for a day per week. And I would especially support a program to ban recycling, since as has been shown, the recycling program destroys resources. It is unsustainable. Why else do we proceed with doing it? It’s because we “like” it? I thought that wasn’t a compelling argument.

    So I am very much in favor of all kinds of seriousness on campus. Let’s price student heating and water use to reflect its true scarcity. Let’s implement a university-wide carbon tax so that we, at least, feel the full costs of our activities. Let’s make all people with cars actually pay the full costs of their parking space and congestion they cause on campus. Let’s hold classes during the middle of the night when energy costs are lower and so we don’t have to cycle up energy to reach peak during popular times of the day. Let’s stop commissioning LEED buildings that don’t save energy. And so on. And of course, then there’s the matter of all the other dangerous things that are floating around campus. How about student sexual attitudes? STDs pose a far greater risk, by orders of magnitude, to human health and well being than almost any environmental problem out there, especially the ones we care about on campus. I support banning of any and all sexual activities on campus unless both potential partners are fully checked out before engaging in any activity that might spread disease. And of course, they must be certified as “safe” by an independent rating agency and be able to show this to potential partners. But students like taking on this risk, right? Or is it not worth it?

  17. Leslie,

    I actually quite like those plastic water bottles. I am not sure why your preferences are more valued than mine, which is what you seem to be arguing. I also don’t understand why this is an “issue” on campus and why you have to “fix” it, as you reference. The ability to buy a water bottle is a benefit to me, and it is no way clear that it is a cost to you. Even if it were a cost on you, I’m not sure why the immediate response is to ban it. I am offended by many things on campus, a number of which impose very real costs on me, but my response is not that we should ban them.

    On the sustainability of banning water bottles though, these initiatives are not costless. It is not as simple as making a rule that no one can buy water bottles and instantly you get some environmental benefit. Ask how much of your tuition goes towards sustainability initiatives and think about what else you can do with those funds. Can you retire some carbon permits, conserve land, help save an endangered species? At least in part you can reach some of these goals. Spending resources on banning water bottles prevents you from doing this though. And by banning water bottles, what are your goals? If it is sustainability, what does this mean? You mention reducing the number of plastic water bottles going to landfills each year. If you’re concerned about sending water bottles to landfills, you must be concerned we are running out of landfill space. Are we?

    Michael Dymond

  18. “If you are concerned by greenhouse gas emissions due to transportation, then I encourage you to do something about it.”

    There’s a difference between doing something on one’s own initiative and using force to get a desired outcome.

    Also, wasn’t the phase out of CFCs due to the Montreal Protocol, not the EPA?

    “38 billion bottles end up in landfills every year.”

    …and 25 billion diapers end up in landfills every year. I’ve learned the hard way that using large numbers to prove a point is not constructive for meaningful conversation.

    Here’s a serious suggestion to Team Green regarding sustainability:
    Reform meal plans. At the end of each semester many students end up with substantial balances. What’s the incentive to drain the balance? Purchase frivolous items from Hillside market and the like… Hardly “sustainable”….

  19. I wrote this article to alert readers about the Ban the Bottle initiative, as well as the general community response. I deliberately included both supportive and concerned comments. However, I would say that the student in question is allowed to be incredulous about the possibility of opposition, just as you are allowed to mock his reaction, as you chose to in your comment.
    In addition, you wrote, “what if, you know, people, you know, actually LIKE water bottles”
    I don’t actually find this argument to be at all compelling. Should we base all decisions on whims? What if, you know, people LIKE to dump toxic waste into, say, a body of water? Should we concede that yes, they should be free to expose others to hazardous materials because they enjoy the process? What if the phaseout of CFCs did not occur because the EPA was sympathetic to the fact that people just really liked their aerosol products to contain CFCs and generally enjoyed depleting the ozone layer?

    You claim that the environmental impact may be minimal. Sure, but it will still have some sort of impact, and since it will have an extremely low cost to the university, why not make some positive change? 38 billion bottles end up in landfills every year. If, as you suggest, every college took on the Ban the Bottle initiative, I fail to see why this number would not decrease by a relatively substantial amount.

    Finally, I’m not sure if you intended for your statement “let’s ban cars for a week” to be sarcastic, but assuming you didn’t, I think that if it could actually be implemented, it could certainly be beneficial to overall decrease in emissions.
    Team Green spearheaded this initiative because they saw a fixable issue on campus, and wanted to decrease unnecessary plastic water bottle waste. If you are concerned by greenhouse gas emissions due to transportation, then I encourage you to do something about it.


  20. I propose we continue the immense progress we’ve made with this ban and eliminate the buses from campus. They give off huge amounts of CO2, so they’re bad and should be eliminated. Cars will be allowed, but not the kind of cars that give off greenhouse gases, the kind that are pulled by sustainable horses. Next, we should target electricity — most of the energy we use on campus comes from burning coal, so the switch to wood-fired ovens and candles should be made as soon as possible, for the good of the planet. Everyone agrees coal is bad, so this should be a no-brainer; there’s really no way a rational human being could oppose this. Finally, I propose we shut down the university. Running the U of R is hugely expensive; with 5,000 undergraduates paying $30,000 a year (a generous number, since it assumes every student averages a $30,000 scholarship), the school costs over $150,000,000 per year, plus whatever else we have to suck from the community around us in the forms of donations and fees. Shutting down the school is simply the right thing to do, and I commend the author and the supporters of the plastic bottle-ban for taking the first step in the right direction.

  21. Incredible.

    The best part is that a student is incredulous that anyone could oppose such a thing. Incredulous.

    Well, I propose to join the eco-fascists and propose that we actually go ahead and be serious here. Aside from the fact that I don’t see any evidence that water bottles are “unsustainable’ (what does that mean by the way, and what if, you know, people, you know, actually LIKE water bottles?), and the obvious fact that every college in America could ban them and it would have a minimal environmental impact, let’s be serious and ban the things on campus that are unsustainable.

    Let’s start with the college’s recycling program. I’ve been asking for years to see any evidence that the benefits of those programs exceed the costs, in particular for the environment. I have done research on my own that shows that curbside recycling programs of relatively low value materials like paper, plastic, cans and bottles are actually costly – they destroy resources, they are UNsustainable. For example a national average estimate of the “fully loaded” costs of trash disposal are about $125 per ton using a national average tipping fee of $36 and collection/transportation cost of $89. This compares to an “all-in” cost (which accounts for the environmental “benefits” of the lower energy use, for example, in getting recycled aluminum) to be about $200 with generous assumptions, including no tipping fees, $150 costs for collection and transportation (you might ask why these are higher for recyclables versus MSW), $88 for processing, and generously assuming a value of $40 per ton paid for recycling materials.

    In other words, recycling programs like that are unsustainable.

    And driving to campus is unsustainable. Let’s ban cars for one day per week.

    Why not? I would be incredulous at anyone who would be opposed to that? Don’t we want to be “sustainable?”

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