Up for Debate column by Jessica Lovell
As a general rule, I don’t buy bottled water. But I also don’t buy into the University of Guelph Central Student Association’s TapIn campaign for a bottled-water-free campus.
There are a number of reasons that I support the U of G administration’s decision to continue to allow the sale of the product on campus in spite of a referendum result last year that was 78 per cent in favour of a ban. But here’s one of the biggest: As I stood watching some 30 students chanting in a demonstration against bottled water on campus Tuesday, I couldn’t help but notice disposable Starbucks coffee cups in the hands of more than one of them.
Sure, it was chilly. I wanted a hot beverage, too. But as I listened to shouts of “Hey hey, ho ho, bottled water’s got to go,” and looked at those cups, the word “hypocrite” came to mind.
Why is it OK to buy coffee in a cup that the city will not recycle, but it’s not OK to buy water in a bottle that can be recycled?
The argument goes something like this: Water is a human right and should not be sold for profit. But what about food? It’s as much a human need as water.
What the water bottling companies (and the numerous fast-food chains on campus) are selling is convenience.
Let’s say those demonstrators with the coffee cups just forgot their reusable travel mugs at home. Lucky for them, there was an alternative available.
But the same demonstrators would deny me that alternative when it comes to water – which they say is a human right.
The campaign’s intention, I think, is to make a change that will have a positive environmental impact. But it also aims to raise awareness of issues related to access to clean water – issues that were present long before companies had the idea to bottle water for sale, and will continue to be there even if you take bottled water out of the equation.
The two issues are somewhat related, but one is somewhat beside the point, so to speak.
And I’m willing to wager that most people who buy bottled water on campus aren’t doing so because they believe the tap water is unsafe to drink. It’s about convenience.
And it’s convenient to simply say, “ban bottled water.” It’s more difficult to tackle the market for the product, which is what makes it so profitable in the first place.
I respect that the campaign is trying to do this, too.
There has been some success with commitments from administration to increase tap water access on campus – making it more convenient to drink from the tap.
That’s a step in the right direction for positive environmental impact, and I hope the campaign continues to work on such changes. Better access to and awareness of recycling would be another good thing to push for.
But I’m not sure the focus is where it should be. As I watched the demonstrators on Tuesday getting ready to take their show on the road, heading downtown for a post-demonstration social, that nasty word crept into my head again. Hypocrite.
They were decking their bikes out with paper streamers for the ride. I hope those streamers don’t end up in landfill, I thought, but they will.