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Reusable bottles owned but not used

By Charlotte Aaron

Section: Features

November 4, 2016

A lack of reusable water bottles is not an excuse for Brandeis students who contribute to the plastic water bottle sales on campus, a survey put out by the Senate Sustainability Committee revealed. Out of 301 survey respondents, 95 percent own a reusable water bottle.

It’s about making it more convenient to use reusable water bottles on campus than to purchase plastic ones, said Emily Thiem ’19, a member of the committee.

Of students surveyed, 41.5 percent found the water bottle refilling stations to be easily accessible compared to 44.9 percent who do not think the stations are accessible.

The survey was created in response to the “Save a Latte” Brandeis sustainability initiative which funded the production and distribution of reusable mugs on campus this semester and last, explained Jake Greenberg ’18, co-chair of the Senate Sustainability Committee. “We wanted to see if that’s something that was successful.”

Much to the surprise of the committee, almost all of the Brandeis students surveyed own a reusable bottle. “Now we can change focus. Now that people have these water bottles, what can we do to make sure people are actually using them,” said Greenberg in regards to the survey takeaways.

Each semester the committee votes on a semester project. With a focus on waste, the committee had voted to conduct the reusable water bottle survey as their Fall 2016 project.

“Now that we have this data, we plan to be sharing it with our sustainability manager as well as considering what our priorities are next semester. How can we build off of this and actually use that change,” said Greenberg.

The survey, created with the intention of determining how many students on campus had reusable bottles, covered other topics such as student reactions to a ban of plastic water bottle sales on campus, questions about why students buy plastic water bottles and suggestions students have for making reusable water bottles easier to use on campus.

About five years ago, an on-campus water bottle ban was proposed by students but was never put into place. While the committee did revisit the idea at the beginning of the semester, they felt it would be best to gather information about how students would react to such a ban, and what concerns students have about it.

Of the students polled, about 74 percent had concerns about the ban. The most popular concern was that there are not enough water bottle refilling stations to compensate for the removal of plastic water bottles. The second most common concern was that bottled sugary drinks would replace the bottled water.

“What if people don’t want a water bottle ban?” asked Thiem. “What are other ways in which we can still incentivise people to use their reusable water bottles instead of using the cups at Usdan or just plastic bottles?”

Serious about implementing change that will incentivise students in a way that makes an impact on plastic water bottle sales on campus, the committee posed that question to the students.

Responses included suggestions such as adding refilling stations in Upper Usdan and the residence halls, developing a cup/mug rental system in the dining halls, and educating students on the quality of water.

Students also suggested discounts for using reusable cups and mugs—a program that currently exists. “38.2 percent of people didn’t know about the Sodexo price reductions for using a mug or reusable bottle. For coffee and tea, you get a 79 cent discount if you use your reusable mug,” said Thiem. “If there’s a discount, it doesn’t matter if the student population doesn’t know there is a discount.”

The Committee already began addressing the issue of students being unaware of existing discount options by relocating Brandeis Students for Environmental Action (SEA) informational posters to more visible locations and posting advertisements on Facebook, explained Thiem.

For the remaining weeks in the semester, the Committee will work to break down the survey responses even more and develop a coherent plan to make reusable water bottle usage on campus more convenient.

“A lot of people are saying they don’t want to use them [reusable bottles] just because of convenience,” said Thiem. “If it was more convenient to find a water filling station around campus than to try to go into where the C-Store is and Upper Usdan to buy a water bottle, than could that promote people to change?”

Thiem became involved in the committee as a way to represent her peers who want to make the Brandeis campus greener. “I want those voices to be heard from students who do care about how much energy Brandeis uses, how much waste we create. I want to help create a more sustainable campus, because in the end it’s only small lifestyle changes for us as students, but it can really make a big difference,” explained Thiem.

While it may not seem like one additional plastic water bottle is going to make a huge difference, removing plastic bottle use habitually will have a great impact, explained Thiem. Interested in helping students understand the importance of small lifestyle changes, Thiem hopes that their initiative next semester in response to the survey will help push the student body in that direction.

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