Cornell University image
The University of Portland banned disposable plastic water bottles last year, stopping an annual flow of more than 50,000. 
Cornell University image
The University of Portland banned disposable plastic water bottles last year, stopping an annual flow of more than 50,000. 
A year ago, the University of Portland became the first college on the West Coast to discontinue the sale of disposable plastic water bottles on campus.

At the time, it joined 20 schools nationwide. Since then, dozens more colleges have established or begun discussing bottle bans, including Seattle University, Pacific University and The Evergreen State College. In all, about 70 schools have take the step to aid the environment.

The University of Oregon is considering action, with the student government already voting to return to tap water.   

“The University of Portland takes seriously its commitment to being a good steward of the planet,” Holy Cross Father William Beauchamp said when he announced the ban at UP, where he is president. “This will not only reduce the amount of waste generated on our campus but will help focus attention on the critical issues of sustainability and water rights.”

In 2009, the University of Portland used 53,112 disposable plastic water bottles. According to industry research, less than 25 percent of disposable plastic water bottles are recycled. Much of the water contained in disposable plastic bottles comes from distant locations, requiring a large environmental cost to bale, ship and transport. Producing plastic emits gases into the environment. Many students cite the spectre of a massive conglomerate of plastic now floating in the Pacific, covering an expanse twice the size of Texas.

With the assistance of student groups and the Presidential Advisory Committee on Sustainability, Bon Appétit, UP’s food service provider, made the decision to stop selling disposable plastic water bottles at the university's café, in all campus vending machines and at concessions stands at athletic events, and to discontinue use in catering services on campus.

“It’s something we need to do,” said Kirk Mustain, Bon Appétit's general manager. “It’s a goal that is attainable, and water is becoming a key issue worldwide. Sustainability is important on our campus and for Bon Appétit.”

In addition to being good for the environment, because water being sold in disposable plastic water bottles is part of a process of privatization of water resources, the sustainable purchasing decision not to buy or sell disposable plastic water bottles also fits into the Catholic belief, as stated in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, that water cannot be treated as a commodity and that access to water is a universal and inalienable right.

“Water is a human right, and it’s best when a community has control of its own water,” said Holy Cross Brother Dave Andrews, coordinator for Justice and Peace for the Congregation of Holy Cross and senior representative for Food and Water Watch. “There are Holy Cross institutions in Asia, Africa and Latin America in places that are most seriously affected by climate change. The Congregation of Holy Cross has put a priority on sustainability and our colleges are taking that seriously.”

Stonehill College of Easton, Mass., a fellow Holy Cross college, also eliminated the sale of disposable plastic water bottles.