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.

marie nancionnette..

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


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


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.


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.


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...


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

thecools, UK

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!


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.

Aaron K

Perhaps the problem is that these drinks are simply too convenient. How about a tax/regulatory scheme that ensures that the price per bottle is not a multiple of $0.25. That way, people will have to carry nickels and dimes, either before or after the purchase.

Kathy A.

While I usually bring my own water, on the rare occasions when I do buy bottled water it's a substitute for buying a bottled soft drink. If bottled water is banned, it won't reduce my use of plastic bottles one bit.

Cincinnati Bodhisattva

Oh good grief! A lot of 'bottled water' is glorified municipal water anyway. The convenience factor can be taken care of by a reusable cup or bottle brought from home. Why believe the marketeers that H2O is 'better' if you pay more and add to the waste stream?


As a student at the unmentioned university, I have to disagree with the post. The effort is coupled with a plan to make available "Nalgene" or similar reusable containers. Each incoming student is given a reusable container (some made from corn-based plastics), which can be used to fill up on tap water (according to a survey, our city has the best tasting tap water in the country) or used to purchase any of the available soft-drinks at a discounted price.

The idea is to cut waste on throw-away containers and increase sustainability.

I agree with #2 - sugar soft drinks aren't a feasible substitute for water to most ardent water drinkers, including this one.

Christopher Browne

I frequently carry around a *larger* water bottle intended to be refillable.

I suspect that *that* will represent a frequent substitution.

Students that are accustomed to carrying around water bottles may replace disposable ones by ones that are "less disposable." That is likely to have an increased one-time cost, but refilling from a tap is mighty cheap!


Why create a vacuum?

Instead, why don't they provide water cooler stations where people can refill their containers with branded filtered or mineral water for, say, 50-75 cents for a 16-oz. bottle?

Everybody wins -- people get the water they want at a reduced price, and there's less waste from discarded bottles.

I'm sure they could cut a deal with one of the major bottlers to do it.


I disagree that soft drinks would replace the water bottles.

Atleast where I live (Finland) people these days tend to carry an old water or soft drink bottle in their bag and fill that with tap water when necessary.

Goose The Tax Dog

I would imagine that giving out free reusable Nalgene-type bottles would make a large difference. My employer recently gave everyone a free coffee mug with the intention/effect of virtually eliminating the use of styrofoam coffee cups.


How about just using re-usable bottles? Obvious?


This would work in Michigan because soda and beer has a 10 cent deposit- but water bottles do not. The soda bottles are usually turned in for the cash but the water bottles must be recycled separately, which usually means in the trash if a recycle bin isn't handy. The deposit law worked to reduce litter on the streets, it should be updated to include single-serve non carbonated beverages as well.


For the daily water-drinking routine, most will opt to replace with a refillable bottle. It's spontaneous portable water purchases that will be replaced with portable soda/juice purchases (for example, at a gas station or vending machine).


NYU's Bobst Library, at least for staff, has water coolers liberally spread around. Most staff seem to take advantage of these with reusable containers rather than using disposable bottles. I wish they'd expand this for the patron areas of the library, though, since when I'm there as a student rather than for work I find myself having to drink the tap water, which is inadequate even by NYC's uneven standards.

I think water stations combined with distribution of reusable containers can work. I don't have too much of a problem drinking relatively low-quality tap water, but I know a lot of people who do. It's these people who drink bottled water, so it seems like filling stations are a good compromise.