ASUC Senate seeks to further bottled water ban efforts

Plastic water bottles for sale at the Golden Bear.
Sean Goebel/Staff
Plastic water bottles for sale at the Golden Bear.

If everything goes according to the ASUC Senate’s plan, bottled water will be a product of the past on the UC Berkeley campus by 2014.

More than five months after the passage of a student initiative calling for the campus to phase out its sale of bottled water, the senate voted unanimously in favor of a bill supporting “Take Back the Tap” — a national campaign promoting increased use of tap water run by the nonprofit Food & Water Watch.

The bill also calls for the eradication of bottled water sales on campus within the next three years.“It’s going to be a difficult process, like anything is on this campus,” said Cooperative Movement Senator Elliot Goldstein, the bill’s author. “The smallest changes take a lot of different people coming to the table to figure out how that is going to work.”

Under the bill, Food & Water Watch will provide a $500 stipend for a campus coordinator charged with organizing meetings to form proposals and communicating with the senate, the campus community and campus organizations about the campaign.

The bill also creates a new Take Back the Tap Task Force, which will be composed of the campaign coordinator, at least three senators and “as many other students, faculty, and staff as is necessary to formulate sound policy and carry out a successful campaign,” according to the bill. The task force will determine if it needs funding and then request an amount from the senate.

The goals of the task force build on those established in last spring’s ASUC General Election by the “End the Sale of Bottled Water” initiative, which asked voters if they supported the renegotiation of campus contracts to phase out the purchase, sale and distribution of bottled water. The initiative passed with 8,078 votes in favor, 1,511 against and 1,889 abstaining.

Since then, the campus’s contract with Coca-Cola Co. expired and has been replaced by an exclusive beverage deal with PepsiCo. While a contract with Pepsi has not yet been signed, according to campus Beverage Alliance Chair Kurt Libby, the campus has begun to sell Pepsi products — including Aquafina bottled water.

Though water bottles remain for sale on campus, demand for them has decreased significantly over the past few years. Bottled water sales in 2010 were down 48 percent from 2006 figures, according to Trish Ratto, Health*Matters wellness program manager for University Health Services.

The reduction can be accounted for at least in part by the “I Heart Tap Water” campaign, according to Ratto. The campaign, a collaboration between four campus units, was launched in 2008 to promote tap water as the beverage of choice.

But while she supports increased use of tap water, Ratto cautioned that there could be unintended health consequences of a complete ban on the sale of bottled water.

“There needs to be some analysis to determine that there should be a 100 percent bottle ban, because then it pushes people to drink soda,” Ratto said.

Eliminating the sale of bottled water would also dovetail with the campus’s goal to achieve zero waste by 2020. According to the “I Heart Tap Water” webpage, it is estimated that less than half of the plastic bottles purchased on campus are recycled.

But it will be up to the task force to work with the campus on actually phasing out bottled water, Goldstein said. A good place to start, he said, would be with Cal Dining, which he said has been “very progressive with sustainability on this campus.”

“What needs to happen is the campus needs to make a policy — Cal Dining doesn’t make independent policy for the campus,” said Shawn LaPean, executive director of Cal Dining. “We believe in environmental causes, but again, when it comes to out and out ban … we need the campus to provide us guidance.”

Where that guidance would come from, however, is a question in itself.

Goldstein said he has received “a lot of symbolic support” from Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

“Maybe that can start turning into real policy-oriented support,” Goldstein said.

J.D. Morris is the lead environment reporter.