Americans use about 50 billion plastic water bottles each year, but only about 23 percent of those are recycled. This means that more that $1 billion worth of plastic is wasted annually. Plastic water bottles are harmful among many aspects including social, economic, and environmental issues. The bottled water industry is tricking consumers into believing that their water is somehow elite to tap water by using phrases such as “pure” and “enhanced” and images such as mountains and rivers on their labels, while the two largest producers of bottled water, Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coke’s Dasani, simply bottle municipal water. The price of bottled water is up to 10,000 times the cost of tap water with bottled water costing $116 per month and tap water only 15 cents per month. By producing these bottles, we waste enough energy to power 190,000 homes and enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year. These plastic bottles can take between 400 and 1000 years to decompose, and 90% of trash in the ocean is from plastic.
Last year, a group of students and I began the process of phasing out bottled water at Furman University. Our ultimate goal is to completely eliminate plastic water bottle purchasing on campus, but we first must accomplish multiple smaller steps. Last year one of our primary goals was to educate the student body about the harmful affects of bottled water. We hosted a Cultural Life Program (CLP) featuring the documentary Tapped, which takes a behind-the-scenes look at the unregulated world of the bottled water industry by examining the lives of communities affected by these corporations.
One of our biggest accomplishments in this process so far has been implementing a water bottle tax to help fund projects to mitigate water bottle usage. My group met with Becky Vuksta, the director of auxiliary services, and she was willing to place a quarter tax on all bottles in the vending machines and on plastic water bottles in the Pala Den. This tax has been in affect since April 1, 2014 and collected in a sustainable fund. We have recently used this money to purchase a water bottle filling station in Plyler Hall. This is the first of these stations in the Townes Science Center and makes using a reusable bottle much more convenient.
In the near future we would like to continue implementing these bottle filling stations throughout campus to include one in each academic building. Another main goal is to reach out to the athletic department. We hope to first extend our quarter tax to bottled water in all athletic facilities to increase our revenue in order to expedite our purchasing of new bottle filling stations. Under the current system, students are not allowed to bring outside bottles into the stadium, forcing them to purchase overpriced bottled water. We hope to collaborate with officials to allow empty reusable bottles into the games and insert a filling station in the stadium. My group also aims to eventually provide reusable water bottles to all incoming students so that everyone will have the opportunity to live more sustainable. This will definitely be a long battle, but we are very passionate and motivated to continue this important project in our future years at Furman and hope to phase out bottled water completely in the upcoming years.