On Feb. 8, New College students and people all across the country participated in a national effort to flood their state representatives with phone calls, asking them to cut spending on bottled water in government offices. A recent report from Corporate Accountability International showed Congress spending $860,000 on bottled water in the past year alone — an amount of money that many outraged students protested as being wasteful and unnecessary.
Thirsty for justice, New College’s Green Affairs Representative Nicholas “Niko” Segal-Wright organized a local phone bank on campus to be a part of the effort. Student volunteers helped convince passersby to call Representative Vern Buchanan from Florida’s 13th district — which covers New College — demanding bottled water be slashed from the state’s budget.
“I’ve been in communication with someone from the organization Corporate Accountability International,” said Segal-Wright. “They’re the people who got me started on the bottled water campaign because they’re running a national campaign called ‘Think Outside the Bottle.”
According to their website, Think Outside the Bottle “promotes, protects and ensures public funding for our public water systems.” The organization claims the bottled water industry manufactures demand with advertising that suggests tap water is unsafe to drink while their products are the only water sources that can be trusted. The Natural Resources Defense Council however, stated that 40 percent of bottled water happens to derive from the exact same sources as tap water. Dasani, Coca-Cola’s brand of bottled water and the only kind sold on campus, happens to be just that — purified tap water. This begs the question; why pay top dollar for something that’s essentially free?
In addition to participating in the national campaign against bottled water, Segal-Wright aims to make alternative water sources available for students, ultimately eliminating bottled water on campus completely.
“I talked with Ken Perlowski [of Physical Plant] this morning about getting a water cooler in the dining area in Ham,” explained Segal-Wright. “We’re at the beginning stages [and are] looking into it and figuring out what we want to get.”
Segal-Wright believes water coolers could be advantageous in ways other than just getting people to stop drinking bottled water and could be used at the discretion of the student body, whether for student events or even Walls.
When asked if other water sources, like water coolers, would replace bottled water altogether, Segal-Wright replied, “Hopefully, hopefully it would […] Sodexo is going to supply whatever students demand […] The only way to get rid of bottled water is to get students to stop buying it.”
A recent incident highlighted the possible difficulties the purge on bottled water could pose, however. A cautionary “boil alert” regarding all tap water on the east side of campus pervaded New College from Feb. 19-21 when a 10 inch water pipe broke nearby on General Spaatz Boulevard. Assuming bottled water was removed completely, the Catalyst wondered what would happen in a similar event.
“There would probably be some bottled water available on campus and also that breaking of the water main is probably not going to happen very often,” he said. “I don’t think it’s significant or anything people should really worry about personally. I mean, we can boil water — we know how to do that.”
Segal-Wright listed three points which he considers define the reasons for investing in public water systems and severing ties from bottled water industries.
“The first is environmental,” he explained. “We have perfectly good water here so there’s no point in having it shipped by train from Maine or flown in from Fiji. Also, the majority of the plastic does not get recycled even though it’s recyclable — people just don’t recycle it. That generates a huge amount of waste and it takes a ton of resources to make.
“The second point is the social justice implications of privatized water. All over the world companies are buying up supplies of water from local communities. [This] forces the communities to pay for their water and they usually end up paying a ton more and then only the wealthy can buy water. We don’t really associate our buying of bottled water with this but we’re essentially funding these companies to go around the world and buy up water sources. There have been cases where a country will privatize its entire water supply and then prices of water usually double and it’s usually absolutely disastrous for the country.
“For example, in Bolivia they privatized the water […] and there were riots and eventually the executives were chased out of the country. The whole economy went to shit and eventually they had to de-privatize the water again. It’s part of a global phenomenon and I think it’s better that we’re not a part of it.
In a concluding statement he said: “[Thirdly,] on an individual level, you shouldn’t spend your money on bottled water because you’re wasting your money.”