Last week, President Hamilton announced that starting Jan. 1, 2020, the university would no longer purchase bottled water as part of the administration’s plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2040. However, as is the case with most university press releases, the devil is in the details.
We are NYU Take Back the Tap, part of the nationwide movement against bottled water. We view ending the use of bottled water as an important part of reducing plastic waste, decreasing our carbon footprint and stopping corporate privatization of water.
NYU’s initiative to halt spending on plastic water bottles by 2020 is an important sustainability measure that will significantly reduce the amount of plastic bottle waste on our campus. We are excited to see this initiative carried out, and are happy to be part of a university that is taking sustainability on campus so seriously. However, university officials’ characterization of this policy as a bottle ban is simply misleading. As it stands, NYU only plans to stop purchasing bottled water; it doesn’t plan to stop selling it.
Confused? So are we.
In ending only the purchase of water bottles, students will still be able to walk into a campus store or go to a vending machine and find water bottles to purchase. The university will still be maintaining contracts with companies like Coca-Cola to sell bottled water. In order for there to be a full bottle ban, the university needs to end all water contracts with Coca-Cola and stop the sale of all plastic water bottles on campus.
Coca-Cola, who sells and manufactures Dasani water bottles, produces more than 110 billion single-use plastic bottles every year. Dasani is literally just filtered tap water put in a bottle and sold for more money. Dasani water has also been found to have microplastics in their water and has had to recall billions of bottles in the past due to mold. The bottles produced by Dasani as well as other private water bottle corporations are made with PET plastic which has toxins such as acetaldehyde — a possible human carcinogen that can cause genetic mutations — and formaldehyde, which is known to cause DNA and chromosome damage.
The production of water bottles is also incredibly detrimental to the environment. In the U.S., annual production of single-use water bottles equates to the use of about 64 million oil barrels. Not only do plastic bottles contribute to the rise in greenhouse gas levels in the Earth’s atmosphere, but they are also harmful to the oceans, poisoning marine life. While the reduction of 250,000 plastic bottles is impressive, NYU needs to cut its contracts with industries that contribute to significant amounts of pollution. They also need to take aggressive steps to fully eliminate single-use plastic water bottles from campus by ending the sale of them on campus.
The need to take more sustainable actions on campus extends far beyond water bottle reduction. Our partners at NYU Divest for Decarbonization asked us to share some of their thoughts as well:
“While we’re excited that NYU has taken this step toward supporting students’ sustainable everyday practices, there remains a need to end NYU Washington Square’s dependence on fracked gas, implement climate action at all NYU global sites and increase NYU’s accountability to the communities its fossil fuel infrastructure negatively impacts.
The implementation of these and other vital steps toward making NYU 100% renewable is imminent; NYU Divest passed the Student Senators Council in October, and awaits endorsement from the Sustainability Advisory group to be presented and voted upon at the University Senate.”
As students deeply concerned about climate change and the future of life on this planet, we congratulate the NYU administration on taking steps to reduce their environmental impact. But baby steps are not enough to avert climate change. We need decisive action, not half-measures. Fully ending the sale of bottled water and decarbonizing are essential to a sustainable NYU.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Mar. 4, 2019, print edition. To submit a letter to the editor, email [email protected]