Colleges Ban Disposable Plastic Water Bottles

water bottles

As more organizations, from the national parks to college campuses, start to ban disposable PET drinking water bottles, will alternative “pouch” packaging fill the niche?

Andrew Theen reports for Bloomberg News that more than 90 U.S. college campuses, including Brown and Harvard, have restricted or banned the sale of water sold in disposable plastic bottles. The campaigns have taken different forms — from outright bans to reduction of use or suggested alternatives in various parts of campus.

For example, incoming students get stainless-steel bottles in their welcome packs that can be refilled at hydration stations. At some schools, bottled water cannot be used for meetings. The idea behind the restriction is to reduce trash.

“It’s a really tangible, sustainable activity that students can get behind,” Niles Barnes, project coordinator with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, told Theen.

Theen adds that some colleges have made a firm decision against bans for various reasons. He writes:

Some colleges with a history of activism have rejected bans on packaged water. The University of California, Berkeley opted against the idea on concern it would drive students toward sweetened beverages, said Trish Ratto, a university health services official. So did Columbia, after students said they’d buy it elsewhere, according to Nilda Mesa, assistant vice president of environmental stewardship at the New York-based college.

Total bottled water sales for the U.S. hover around $22 billion. Theen reports that the bottled water industry is not concerned about the college restrictions. Joe Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, based in Alexandria, VA, told him that the anti-bottled-water groups that travel from campus to campus are not a big threat right now.

One packaging company actually sees opportunity in people’s dissatisfaction with disposable plastic water bottles. Heather Caliendo of PlasticsToday reports:

‘The banning of the bottle as a package to deliver hydration water, which is freely available from many water outlets at little cost, is to my mind the 21st century solution and in time will save lots of money and energy and reduce the recycle bottle handling process,’[R. Charles Murray, CEO of PPi Technologies Group] told PlasticsToday. ‘To fill the gap for an economic portable hydration water package, it takes a lot to beat the pouch.’

Pouches aren’t just for kids’ juice drinks such as Capri Sun anymore. Caliendo writes:

Pouches have gained traction recently with more packaged food makers switching from bottles and cans to pouches. John Kalkowski, editorial director of our sister publication Packaging Digest, recently told the Chicago Tribune that pouches are becoming more prevalent because technology has improved, doubling average shelf life from one year to two.

Caliendo reports that pouches are made with various kinds of lamination materials, have the lowest carbon footprint of any package, and can be recycled or incinerated for energy recovery.

Murray told Caliendo that PET water bottles will eventually disappear, “however, for camping, trips in the car, places where water quality is questionable or suspect, the pouch will become the package of choice.”

Source: “Colleges shun bottled water in a jab at $22 billion industry,” Bloomberg News via Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star, 3/11/12
Source: “Goodbye, water bottle; hello, pouch?,” PlasticsToday, 3/9/12
Image by stevendepolo (Steven Depolo), used under its Creative Commons license.

Rachel Petkewich is a freelance science writer and editor. She has worked as a research scientist in the chemical industry and spent eight years as a staff writer and editor at various science journals and magazines, including Chemical & Engineering News.