The University ought to ban plastic water bottle sales

(Arielle Chen | Daily Trojan)

With the recent release of the University’s Sustainability Annual Progress Report and the financial drama that has been the divestment issue in the past months, the University must consider aggressive sustainability measures for its upcoming 2028 Sustainability Plan. 

In its efforts to become a zero-waste campus, the University ought to outright ban plastic water bottle sales in restaurants and vending machines on campus. Tangible solutions like this can be effective in reducing plastic consumption and helping the transition to zero waste, especially as the University failed in meeting some measures of its Sustainability Annual Progress Report in 2019. 

The University was not able to decrease potable water use by 25%, but was able to increase awareness of conservation practices and implement audience-appropriate educational campaigns. In conjunction with Facilities Management Services replacing outdated water fixtures across campus, reusable bottle use should also be promoted by installing more refillable water stations.

By taking this initiative, USC can take an active role and take the lead in encouraging the local community and other universities to follow suit.

Not all students may have the financial means to engage in sustainable practices. The University should therefore also provide reusable water bottles as a way to consider all students in this policy change. This engages students with sustainability, and promotes positive habits that may genuinely have a lasting impact on the campus and in the community. Water resources and the energy to manufacture and transport plastic water bottles may be saved by discouraging plastic water bottle usage. 

Many colleges across the nation have implemented programs to curtail or outright ban plastic water bottle usage. From the Washington University in St. Louis to the University of Portland, these institutions have been able to lead the way in sustainable practices through their plastic water bottle bans. ​​By 2023, the California State University’s 23 campuses will be eliminating the use and sale of all single-use plastics including plastic straws, water bottles and bags. The College of St. Benedict in Minnesota has also installed 31 refillable water stations at a cost of approximately $20,000 that would be made back in a year due to the cost of bottles saved.

Other companies such as PATHWATER have student ambassador programs to encourage advocacy in favor of banning plastic water bottles on campus. In 2017, students at UC San Diego worked to pass a vendor lease agreement to eliminate the sale of plastic bottles upon a campus vendor’s lease renewal. 

In focusing on making tangible efforts to reduce USC’s footprint, the University can create lasting change rather than resort to financial theater to misconstrue what can actually be done. Choosing to ban plastic water bottles across campus may seem rigid, but it may allow the University to meaningfully engage in creating a culture of sustainability.

As the Sustainability Annual Progress Report in 2019 signaled, “With the support of our new president, we are making meaningful strides to expand sustainable operations.” President Carol Folt has in her hands the opportunity to effectively achieve the University’s goals and move toward sustainability.