Washington University cuts back on bottled water

Saturday, November 15, 2008 | 4:35 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Two friends, both freshmen at Washington University, grabbed a late lunch Monday at the student union. Jeff Abboud drank water from a Dasani bottle. Alex Pinkerton sipped his for free from a cafeteria cup.

By his frugality, Pinkerton was closer to the cutting edge of environmentally minded campus policy. This fall, Washington University is phasing out almost all of its sales of bottled water.

It costs society a lot more in energy and expense to bottle water than to have students head for the nearest hallway drinking fountain, said Matt Malten, the university's assistant vice chancellor for sustainability.

"We see this as a waste issue and an energy issue," Malten said.

Pinkerton, of St. Paul, Minn., said he favors tap water to save money, not for moral reasons. "Why spend on water when it's free and easy to find?" he asked.

Abboud, of Bronxville, N.Y., said he buys bottled water on occasion, including Monday, but is ready to join in the progressive march to the tap.

"I buy into the whole sustainability movement, but I am totally guilty of convenience," Abboud said. "We have to change our habits."

A university spokeswoman said Coca-Cola Co., the university's beverage dispenser and maker of Dasani, will stop selling bottled water in almost all campus locations by the end of the fall semester. Because of contract obligations, a few spots will sell it until next summer.

PepsiCo, maker of Aquafina bottled water, and Coca-Cola have confirmed that they bottle their water brands from local water-utility supplies.

Malten, the campus sustainability chief, said the bottled-water prohibition arose from the university's effort to find energy-conserving methods for all activities, including transportation, building maintenance and food services. He has held the sustainability job since the campus created it in July 2007.

It's also foolish, Malten said, to rely on bottled water "when the U.S. Mayor's Conference rated our tap water as the best in the country."

The conference said that about St. Louis city water in 2007. Washington University, which straddles the city-county line, gets water from both the city and the Missouri-American Water Co., which serves St. Louis County.

A check of other area campuses showed that St. Louis University, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Harris-Stowe State University have no immediate plans to ban sales of bottled water. Lindenwood University in St. Charles is negotiating with its vendor to phase out bottles, a spokesman said.

At the Washington University student union, Sida Yan drank a bottle of Aquafina she bought from a Sam's Club. The junior from Chesterfield said she'll probably continue carrying her bottled water to school.

"I've been drinking it this way for years," she said. "It just sounds more purified in a bottle."

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Charles Dudley Jr November 15, 2008 | 4:55 p.m.

If you do the research you will see bottled water can be just as contaminated as tap water and visa versa.

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