By JACOB EISENBERG
This past fall was the first time that the Eagle’s Nest offered bottled water as part of a meal combo. While Sodexo stated a commitment to “Going Green,” this decision demonstrates the opposite. As conscious students and consumers, we need to put pressure on Sodexo to reduce their bottled water sales.
Bottled water is bad. It is bad for the communities from which it is sourced, it is bad for the health and finances of consumers and it is bad for the environment. It is awful in absolute terms, but horrific when compared to the alternative.
Aquafina, the bottled water sold at The Nest, is obtained exclusively from municipal sources; that is, tap water.
Though their marketing and labeling suggest that it comes from pure mountain springs, it actually comes from the subsidized water supplies of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver among others.
These water sources were publicly documented on their website after public outcry over the company’s lack of transparency in 2007. This creates an obvious breach of social justice: why should the taxpayers of these localities subsidize the profits of this Pepsi brand?
The water is bottled at its source and transported across the country to be sold to us. Both of these processes are incredibly energy intensive.
It is estimated that bottling water for the American market alone requires the approximate energy equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, emitting 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.
To put this number in perspective, this is enough energy to power nearly 350,000 average American homes for a year and would require the full CO2 sequestration efforts of over two million acres of forest to reverse, as determined by the EPA’s carbon calculator.
Although Pepsi does not make its transportation schedules available to the public, estimates place the total energy needed to transport our country’s bottled water at the same level as that required to produce it.
Imagine a meal plan holder goes to the Nest for a light, healthy meal. They order a “Burg,” and for their side, a banana. The healthy drink options, however, are limited. Their choices: bottled water, a fountain soda or tap water. Aquafina is the obvious healthy choice, right? Not quite. While the negative effects of soda and other high fructose corn syrup beverages are numerous, bottled water is not exactly benign. A well regulated and documented 1999 study by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), updated this year, found that of 103 water bottle brands tested, 26 contained dangerous contaminants in concentrations higher than permitted by California state regulations.
One of these contaminants is phthalate, a carcinogen known to disrupt human endocrine function. Phthalate is thought to leak from the caps of plastic water bottles over time and is not present in tap water. Despite efforts by the NRDC and others, the FDA does not regulate phthalate levels in bottled water.
Fredericksburg’s tap water has not seen any such contamination, according to their municipal water quality reports are publicly available on the web,
The final issue stemming from the consumption of bottled water is that of waste. In 2010, the EPA estimated that only 29 percent of plastics were recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills. Bottles not recycled will sit in a landfill for the next 450 years, piling up and increasing the space required to store water bottles and other solid wastes. Recycling bottles is not a perfect solution either. In addition to the energy expended by recycling programs, the process degrades the quality of the plastic, creating waste itself.
Sodexo is not an oblivious business. Everything they do is highly calculated to ensure the continuation of their contract as UMW’s exclusive food service provider while maximizing profit.
Even overlooking the negative externalities along the way, their sale of water bottles as part of the meal combo at the nest is not an efficient decision in pure financial terms; tap water in Fredericksburg costs 22 cents per 100 gallons with cups costing no more than a few cents themselves. A bottle of water will cost a minimum of fifty times that amount. Therefore, Sodexo’s decision must be driven by a perceived demand of the student body.
We, as a student body, can show them that their perception was misguided. For the sake of the environment, American taxpayers, and your own health, stop asking for bottled water. Show them that their decision was misguided and that we care.
If you want to do more, the UMW Sustainability Office and associated student organizations will be launching awareness initiatives and dialogue with Sodexo about removing water bottles from meal plans in the coming months.