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Our Journey to a Bottle-Free UC

On 22 March 2011 the University of Canberra become Australia’s first bottled water free campus.

Aims

  • Increase awareness of the environmental impact of bottled water (environmental, financial and social)
  • Encourage the UC community to think critically about the impact of personal purchasing behaviour
  • Reduce the campus footprint
UC staff and students enjoy a drink of water.

The initiative is a triumph of student, staff and commercial tenants working together to reduce the environmental impact of the campus community.

The initiative is based on a student project to hold a bottled water free day, which evolved with the support of management to see the removal of bottled water from campus. Throughout 2010, four academic courses engaged in marketing research and in designing reusable bottles for events. Student run surveys and marketing resources helped to raise awareness of the impact of bottled water and garner student support, while allowing students to integrate sustainability into their learning. The sustainability program worked with management to highlight the environmental impact of bottled water and define a strategy to remove bottled water and increase access to drinking water.With the assistance of the ACT Chief Minister's Department the University installed nine external bottle refill stations and three bubblers on campus, along with two internal chilled refill stations/bubblers to increase access to free drinking water — water station locations.

In partnership with ‘Do Something’ and the University identified commercial income replacement strategies including reusable water bottles and Australia’s first WaterVend machines and worked to ensure a high profile was established to promote broader community awareness.For more information on the benefits of removing single use bottled water, or to join the Do Something! national ‘Go Tap’ campaign.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is included?

Being bottled water free means a plentiful supply of fresh, healthy, free drinking water is available from bubblers and bottle refill stations conveniently located around the campus, while the sale of still bottled water has been phased out. By definition, “bottled water” includes only still water, encouraging low impact consumption of this basic human need. “Bottled water” does not extend to flavoured and sparkling water, though community awareness of the impacts of bottled water may also see consumers move away from these products.

What are the environmental impacts / benefits of removing bottled water from campus?

The impact of bottled water on the environment is substantial, with some surprising facts and figures demonstrating the burden our consumption choices place on natural resources.

The impact begins with the extraction of the water, continues with the transport intensive process, through to packaging, refrigeration and finally disposal.

National impact

  • 528.9 million litres of bottled water are purchased every year[i]
  • Pacia 2008/2009 National Plastics Recycling Survey estimates 43.1% of PET bottles are recycled[ii]
  • NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change estimates 200ml of oil is used to produce 1 litre of bottled water
  • 105.7 (105,780,000) million litres of oil used to produce bottled water annually (calculated considering 200ml off oil per litre of BW)
  • 126,936 (calculated according to quantity specified by IBIS report) tonnes of Greenhouse gas emissions[iii]
  • It takes 1.3 to 3 litres of water to produce every 1 litre of bottled water[iv] equating to 1.5 (1,586,700,000) billion litres of water used to produce per year

Local Impact

The University of Canberra sells approximately 140,000 bottles (600ml) or 84,000 litres of bottled water per year. Based on a student survey conducted in 2010, where 83% of students indicated they would bring water from home, the initiative will see the following impact reduction on an annual basis.

  • 116,200 reduced consumption of PET bottles
  • 66,127 bottles not going to landfill
  • 13,400 litres of oil use avoided
  • 201,600 litres of water use avoided
  • waste reduction in packaging of bottled water

[i] IBISWorld Bottled Water Manufacturing in Australia, January 2010

[ii] 2008/2009 PACIA: National Plastics Recycling Survey, 2009

[iii] NSW Department of Climate Change

[iv] Pacific research institute

Why remove bottled water if it’s the healthy drink option?

Reusable water bottles.If the water is free or cheaper and more widely available then there is a much larger chance we will meet our recommended daily intake. Canberra has some of the cleanest drinking water in the world – the removal of bottled water in tandem with an increase in the supply of water across campus should help to promote water consumption as the healthy choice.

While bottled water is largely promoted as the “healthy alternative”, this comparison is typically drawn in comparison to high calorie soft drinks, when really we should be comparing it with water drawn from our town drinking supply.

There is no evidence that in a country like Australia where water supplies are of a high quality that there are any benefits to drinking bottled water over tap water.

Won’t people just switch to buying sugary drinks?

It has been suggested that removing bottled water from sale will see consumers switch to less healthy/high calorie drinks and incur health impacts including increased obesity and diabetes.

There is no evidence to support this claim. Indeed, in the six months after the removal of bottled water from sale, data provided by the University of Canberra Union saw no significant change (0.38% increase) in the sale of soft drinks. At the same time, declines in the sale of juice (-11%), ice tea (-9%) and flavoured water (-22%) were evidenced. While a significant increase in the sale of a previously unpopular drink, sparkling water (142 units in the six months prior to the removal of bottled water), was evidenced (1456%), this represented less than 10% of the total lost sales of bottled water. Milk sales saw the only other significant increase at 8%.

The University is currently collating data to track the drink consumption patterns in the 18 months since the removal of bottled water to provide additional data to inform this debate.

What are the social benefits to the community?

  • Campus community and visitors will have increased access to drinking water across the campus and information on the health benefits of water.
  • By keeping their refillable bottle handy and utilising the new infrastructure on campus, our community can reduce its footprint and save money at the same time.

What are the financial costs and benefits to the community?

  • The obvious financial cost to removing bottled water from sale is the reduced profits, with bottled water typically sold at a 300-500% mark up. These losses can be partially offset with the sale of reusable water bottles and other commercial initiatives such as the sale of boutique water.

    The long-term pursuit of sustainable development necessitates that we consider our purchasing decisions in the context of evolving commercial systems that respond to the true costs of production. Some of theses decisions will necessitate a transition to alternate products, while others can facilitate the market pressure required to drive the demand for more sustainable modes of product production and supply.

  • The extraction of some bottled water brands has a significant impact on the communities from where extraction takes place (others are simply sourced from town water supplies). Impacts are diverse and include loss/ deterioration of recreational water resources, diminishing underground water supplies (and therefore their accessibility for other uses such as agriculture) and community concerns relating to transportation routes through community precincts.