Portland State is commonly seen as being environmentally friendly, whether it is because of the university’s many sustainable projects or the numerous environmentally conscious bikers that commute to campus. But when it comes to bottled water, the PSU Sustainability Office thinks university staff and students could be doing more to help reduce the number of plastic bottles littering the university–either by making a more conscious effort to recycle, or by just not drinking bottled water at all.
Portland State is commonly seen as being environmentally friendly, whether it is because of the university’s many sustainable projects or the numerous environmentally conscious bikers that commute to campus.
But when it comes to bottled water, the PSU Sustainability Office thinks university staff and students could be doing more to help reduce the number of plastic bottles littering the university–either by making a more conscious effort to recycle, or by just not drinking bottled water at all.
“It’s a problem. It increases our waste dramatically,” said Noelle Studer, sustainability coordinator for PSU.
Studer said the problem is largely due to the increasing amount of bottled water people are consuming on campus.
“It’s a big problem and a growing problem in our area,” Studer said. “We have very high-quality water here in the Portland area, so there’s no need to purchase bottled water.”
Bottles, bottles everywhere
Yet, purchasing bottled water is exactly what people at PSU are doing. University Market, PSU’s student store, sells more than double the amount of bottled water than any other beverage, according to sales records.
“We have three full doors of water,” said Kristine Robbins Wise, University Market’s manager. “We do move a really massive number of water bottles through this location.”
Sales figures for the past year show that the number of water bottles sold at University Market is in the thousands, with bottles of Aquafina selling around 18,000 and 21,000 for 1-liter and 20-ounce bottles, respectively.
In total, the University Market sold over 50,000 bottles of Aquafina last year–not counting flavored waters.
With so much bottled water flowing around the university, from the student store to vending machines, Studer said it is very important to recycle, although she added, “We’re recycling more, but the amount that we’re throwing away is also increasing.”
Dr. Susan Poulsen, professor and chair of the communication department, said people are not recycling because there is no reason for them to. Poulsen has researched the bottle water industry and has created class projects about it.
She points to HR 4238, the national legislation better known as the “2007 Bottle Bill,” which would have given consumers a rebate for turning in plastic water bottles and other beverages.
“It didn’t pass,” Poulsen said. “What it really means is that there’s no financial incentive to recycle.”
“Many people don’t recycle,” she added. “There is concern about landfills and excess plastic. There’s no money involved.”
Apart from the environmental concerns, some say an increase in bottled water consumption on campus has other risks.
Although there are industry standards, Poulsen said, most bottled water is not regulated.
According to a study by the National Resources Defense Council, bottled water packaged and sold in the same state does not need to follow the Food and Drug Administration’s bottled water regulations. Also, the study found that while larger cities must test tap water for coliform bacteria 100 or more times per month, bottled water plants must test for the same bacteria only once a week.
You should not drink bottled water “unless you are in a situation where access to a safe water supply is impossible,” Poulsen said.
Other health concerns
Studer said there is also some cause for concern over chemicals called phthalates, which can be found in bottles of water.
Phthalates, compounds commonly used in plastic such as vinyl, can be harmful to the development of children’s hormones used for gender regulation, according to an article from www.time.com.
Some water bottles contain phthalates, according to the study done by the Natural Resources Defense Council, though not all of them do.
Studies have also shown that these chemicals have been linked to breast cancer and a host of other health problems, according to www.time.com and www.breastcancerfund.org.
“When customers reuse them and reuse them and reuse them, there are materials that bleed into the water from the plastic,” Poulsen said. “These bottles are not made for reuse. It’s not a safe thing to do, to reuse these bottles.”
The effects, Poulsen said, are unknown at this point.
“Lots of people don’t know, even in the medical field,” she said. “Carcinogens are leaked out of the bottle into the water. We do know that it’s there.”
Studer said the best way to avoid problems is to not buy bottled water. Bring your own water to school instead, because reusable water bottles are more sustainable than buying bottled water, she said.
“It’s a tremendous waste of resources,” she said about bottled water consumption. “And nobody’s about that. They think, ‘Oh, I’m recycling, it’s going to be OK,’ and it’s really not OK.”