Ban Water Bottles to Reduce Pollution? Come On!


A friend at another university tells me that his school is banning the sale of bottled water on campus, as the university administration is bothered by the pollution produced by plastic water bottles.

Presumably, they figure that bottled-water consumers will switch to tap water, as tap water is bottled water’s closest substitute. I wonder — aren’t bottled soft drinks a closer substitute? Don’t people want the convenience of a container at their desk rather than an occasional drink at the water cooler (or a cup to be filled at the water cooler)?

This ban may well simply lead to substitution from bottled water to bottled soft drinks, with no reduction in pollution. Worse still, people will be substituting caloric soft drinks for zero-calorie water, so that the ban will help increase obesity among students and staff.

University bureaucrats clearly don’t think about substitution by consumers, or about unintended consequences of quantity restrictions. Even by well-known standards of bureaucratic shortsightedness, this one is a real achievement.

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  1. marie nancionnette.. says:

    drink/eat a cucumber, 90% water and the container is edible too.

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  2. frankenduf says:

    perhaps it’s simply to raise awareness that the environmental consequences of bottling/tossing 12 oz H2O increments on a grand scale is not sustainable- and, I seriously doubt that bottled H2O drinking students will switch to coke (the liquid)- the whole point of the bottled water fad is the health symbolism- i say we bring back canteens as the vector of choice for hydration, instead of scrapping them post boy scout camp

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  3. Sam says:

    I agree, banning bottled water won’t resolve the problem created by the discarded plastic bottles.

    On the other hand, undeniably, plastic bottles are one of the greatest pollutants.

    In Mexico City, where I live, you see discarded bottles everywhere, in every street, in highways, in parks, everywhere.

    My proposal would be to impose a special tax (a steep one) on every disposable bottle sold, and apply this money specifically for collection and recycling of those bottles.

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  4. tara says:

    I don’t get it. Banning the sale of bottled water is not the same as banning the bringing of or use of bottles with water, nor banning the sale of reusable bottles. So, sure, some might switch to other bottled drinks, but I highly doubt those who currently pay to drink water will switch to caloric drinks when diet ones or teas are available. Further, I predict there are many who would finally decide to get a filter, if necessary, and reuse their bottles. Substitution and unintended consequences certainly are important, but in this circumstance I think it is actually quite unclear what will happen.

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  5. nonskanse says:

    People switch from calorific soft drinks to calorie free all the time and don’t lose any weight. Who’s to say they’ll gain from switching from calorie free to calorific?

    I wonder if the recycling rate for soda bottles is different than for water bottles. Both are recyclable…

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  6. Jen says:

    They won’t switch to soda, they’ll use Nalgene bottles! They’re already pretty popular.

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  7. thecools, UK says:

    seems like only half the story, are they just banning the bottles or are they replacing the stands and fridges where they were kept with water dispensers?

    a lot of people buy water cos they want “water” and not soft drinks, making it cheaper in money and opportunity, less money (free rather than buying a bottles and less time spent looking for a free water fountain) will make people drink more water. better for everyone!

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  8. Alex says:

    Though I do agree soda/juice might be one substitute, I think generally people will favor reusable water bottles (Nalgene, etc) as well as using water fountains.

    Unless every bottle of water sold will be substituted with a soft drink, this policy would reduce plastic waste. Why is that so worthy of your outrage? There are probably more despicable things in the world for your ire than a bottled water ban.

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