Last updated: May 1, 2012 11:39 am
York joins other universities in giving plastic water bottles the boot
Both York campuses will see water bottles phased out by 2015
TORONTO (CUP) — Plastic water bottles are set to be phased out at York University as part of a campus-wide sustainability drive.
In an effort to reduce the environmental footprint of both campuses, a plan to replace all plastic water bottles with refillable bottles and refill drinking stations is being set.
This follows similar eliminations of water bottles at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University.
“We’ve done a bit of research on what other universities have done,” said York environmental studies professor Ilan Kapoor, who is also chair of York’s sustainability council.
“I know certainly at U of T and Ryerson they found that there was a bit of a backlash because there weren’t available alternatives to water bottles, and that’s why we wanted to call ours a phase-out rather than a ban.”
That means a predicted doubling of refill water stations over the next three years, for when the complete phase-out is completed by September 2015.
“It's something that has to be supported as a whole across a campus,” said Beth Savan, sustainability director at the University of Toronto’s St. George campus. “What happened [at the University of Toronto] is that first it was initiated by students, it was picked up on by staff and it also has the support of the facilities.”
The decision to phase out water bottles was reached by a committee that consists of student, faculty and staff representatives from across the university, according to Kapoor.
“This is a kind of a collective decision making process,” said Kapoor. “We wanted to take kind of a holistic and a sustainable approach.”
Kapoor added that he acknowledges that while bottles will be cut from campus vending machines and food service areas, there is still the fact that students can simply bring in their own from off campus.
“At some point, we have no control over what individuals choose to do,” said Kapoor, adding that there will be educational drives to promote awareness of the phase-out. “All we can do is inform them so they have some choices,” Kapoor said.
Other issues raised against the practicality of cutting water bottles from universities include the consumer right to choose what they want, and the idea that instead of buying water, students in a rush will simply choose less healthy drinks from vending machines or food service areas.
According to McGill medical and law faculty member Margaret Somerville, there is also an ethical debate surrounding the eliminating of water bottles.
“People with small-L liberal values who are usually the politically correct crowd, they are very pro-environment and they’re very pro-individual autonomy,” said Somerville. “They’ve got a conflict of values within their own values because banning plastic water bottles is contrary to individual autonomy and individual rights to decide.”
Somerville added that renaming what is effectively a ban on water bottles could lead to different results. According to Kapoor, both U of T and Ryerson felt a backlash from students when they both imposed what they called a ban. Calling it a phase-out, according to Kapoor, will hopefully stop this backlash.
“That’s the euphemism approach. Call it something different and everybody thinks its ok,” said Somerville. “Language affects our emotions and our intuition, and… a choice of language can seriously affect what we see as ethical or unethical.”