Imagine a campus without bottled water. That means more reusable water bottles, an increase in filling stations and less plastic waste. That’s exactly what the Keene State College Eco Reps are hoping to achieve.
According to their Facebook page, the Eco Reps’ mission is to help educate peers at KSC on sustainability, recycling and [KSC’s] overall footprint on the earth. Three members of the organization made it their personal mission to begin the process of banning plastic water bottles on campus.
KSC students Scott Criscuolo, Victoria Drake and Ashley Bobola began this project at the beginning of the semester when Director of Campus Sustainability at KSC Cary Gaunt suggested the bottle banning project was a high priority.
“Our personal goal is to have a collective voice moving forward,” Gaunt said.
The Eco Reps gathered research before presenting their project to Intern Purchasing Manager Renee Harlow. The Eco Reps researched that over 10.3 billion gallons of water were sold in the United States in 2013.
One of the largest problems the Eco Reps said that they found was that KSC supplies Aquafina water to its students. The Aquafina Company gets their water from a part of California that has been exponentially affected by a serious drought, according to Eco Rep research.
KSC sells bottled water not only in vending machines but also at Hoot n’Scoot, Lloyds and athletic concession stands.
Harlow explained that there are two sides of purchasing: how the negotiated deals financially benefit KSC and to make sure the purchases aren’t doing harm to the environment. She said the best financial decisions are helping to keep tuition low.
KSC has a contract agreement with vendors that supply to the college. In simple terms, KSC receives a shipment and if the college sells a minimum of certain product, [KSC] is awarded a commission.
“It’s hard to balance both worlds,” Harlow said regarding financial decisions and what’s best for the college. She said it would be hard to ban bottled water because KSC benefits financially from every bottle sold.
“While it’s commendable, there’s a tradeoff,” Harlow said about the bottle-banning project. She said if the school does not reach the minimum, [KSC] has to pay back the money they didn’t make.
Harlow made it clear that she didn’t want to discourage the Eco Reps from their project. “I’m with them on this,” she said, “I just have to look at what’s best financially for the school.”
Harlow explained that the contract KSC has is re-signed every ten years. The purchasing office and contract management looks for bids from companies willing to sign with KSC that help the school financially. Unfortunately for the Eco Reps, KSC’s contract was last signed in 2009 and cannot ban plastic water bottles without paying a large fine, according to Harlow.
“We’ll probably start the searching process in the spring of 2018,” Harlow said about signing a new contract in 2019.
As for moving forward, the Eco Reps aren’t giving up.
“It may not happen tomorrow, but it may happen over time,” Gaunt said.
Criscuolo isn’t completely discouraged by the long process. “Over twenty schools in the U.S. have banned plastic water bottles on campus,” he said, “it’s not impossible.”
Representative from Student Government Atticus Rollins encouraged the Eco Reps to present their bottle-banning project at Student Assembly. Rollins also suggested looking into organizations that give grants based on how economically friendly the college is rather than losing money by banning plastic bottles before a new contract has been signed.
Criscuolo suggested looking into other schools that have banned plastic water bottles. He said the closest one is the University of Vermont.
Gaunt said she has researched schools that are more comparable in size to KSC to learn how they budgeted the banning of plastic bottles. “If the awareness of buying bottled water is raised, that’s one way of approaching students,” she said.
“Don’t give up,” Harlow said. “There’s no guarantee that plastic water bottles will be banned by 2019, but you will have a voice,” she said to the Eco Reps. Harlow said she applauds the students’ passion for their project.
Moving forward, Bobola said the Eco Reps hope to show the documentary “Tapped” to help inform students on the benefits of tapped water versus bottled water. “We already have a petition being signed to help ban the bottle,” she said.
The Eco Reps also said they would like to see more water filling stations around campus, hold water tastings and create a larger outreach on social media.
MacKenzie can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org