The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Soda dispensers are better than vending machines

3 min read

Soda dispensers create less waste than vending machines. | @neonbrand on Unsplash


Staff Writer

UMW has many vending machines on campus. They are usually found in dorm living spaces, laundry rooms, and nearly all academic buildings. These machines are super convenient, but also polluting. One way to go about tackling this issue is by replacing all bottled drink vending machines with the fountain beverage machines we typically find in restaurants. 

Many UMW students carry their own water bottles to and from class, so it would, in theory, be very easy for many to refill their bottles with flavored drinks if desired.

“It would be great to not have so much plastic waste on campus, but then you would run into the issue of cleanliness and trusting people not to make a mess of the machines,” said senior environmental science major Andrew Thomas.

Thomas makes a good point; fountain machines do tend to be messier than vending machines. However the risk of messes may be reduced simply by the method in which they would be paid for. 

Currently, vending machines on campus are paid for by students with a credit card or their eagle one card. The new proposed fountain machines could function similarly in that you pay for the drink using your eagle one card or credit card, but the amount of money goes up in conjunction with the amount of drink you remove from the machine, similar to a gas station meter. That way, the person pays for any mess made, which would incentivise against messes in general.

UMW has made moves in the past to be a more sustainable school. For example, several buildings on campus, including the Jepson Science Center and the HCC are LEED certified by the non-profit US Green Building Council, meaning they were made and used sustainably. But UMW didn’t stop there, as they also have multiple rain gardens throughout campus, and are working on making Mary Washington solar powered in the future. 

The moves that this school and it’s students and faculty have made to be more sustainable and eco-friendly are huge! But there is always more to be done. Many students already carry reusable water bottles with them around campus, which is a habit that can be taken advantage of for the better. For those without water bottles, it would incentivise them to carry one with them, further encouraging these eco-friendly habits. 

UMW has also been known to give out water bottles to incoming students at orientation and other school-related events, meaning that this change wouldn’t be a huge burden on student’s wallets. 

Having an incentive to actually use those bottles on campus could help reduce even more plastic waste in the future. In addition, converting vending machines to fountain machines could help the overall health of faculty and students. 

Vending machines are often filled with two options: soft drinks or bottled water. And in a university where many students don’t have a car to go off campus to get other options for themselves, this can present a health issue as well. Fountain machines can easily have many different drink options available, from the typical soft drinks to healthier alternatives like flavored water and juices. 

Giving students and faculty the option to choose something healthier to drink instead of forcing them to choose between water and soda would potentially bring in more revenue for the school and help the overall health of it’s community. The ‘Health Policy Tracking Service’ of the National Conference of State Legislature stated that “many schools earn as much as $100,000 from vending machine contracts annually.” And I believe this could be improved upon even more so if students were given the opportunity to choose their beverages.

Changing something as small as a vending machine can go a long way in improving ourselves and our planet. Everything we use can, and does, have better alternatives. It is just a matter of getting enough people to support those changes so that we can limit plastic pollution as much as possible.

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