According to a new, a ban on bottled water by the University of Vermont has actually caused the number of bottles that end up in the trash to increase.
Published online in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health, the study found that as a result of the ban, which took effect in January 2013 after a vote by the student government, students and faculty members began drinking more unhealthy alternatives after all unflavored water was removed from vending machines and retail stores on campus, writes Tyler Kingkade for The Huffington Post. The school was the first to implement such a ban.
“It was very well-intentioned,” author Rachel Johnson said of the bottled water ban. “But consumers didn’t change their behavior. They continued to purchase beverages in plastic bottles, but since the healthiest choice was no longer available, they chose unhealthy beverages.”
After the ban went into effect, the school installed 75 filling stations for reusable water bottles around the campus. However, most were located outside of retail dining locations instead of inside along with the meal options.
UVM spokesman Jeff Wakefield said that the dining hall at the school has offered students the option of having a free cup of water with their meal for quite some time. These were found at the soda dispensers. Wakefield said that plastic bottles are not often offered to students.
Retail locations at the school, which offer both sit-down and to-go meal options, do offer plastic bottles of water as an everyday choice. Students were not as easily able to obtain free water at these locations, although that has begun to change as a result of the new research.
UVM Dining, operated by Sodexo, now offers free cups and water tabs on their soda dispensing machines at all retail dining locations to provide free water to all customers with their meals, reports Jack Thurston for NECN.
The University of Vermont is sticking by the bottled water ban. “I don’t think there’s been anything anyone has ever done in history where they got it right the first time,” said Richard Cate, UVM’s vice president for finance.
Cate added that the school would be making small changes to the ban this fall, including adding more lower-calorie options and installing new soda dispensers that have additional flavors. The Coca-Cola Freestyle machines will be able to dispense beverages into paper cups rather than only offering plastic bottles in an effort to reduce waste.
“You have to be flexible,” Cate said. “We want people to learn from the issues that we’ve been confronted with. Hopefully, we’re crafting solutions they can use as well, on any campus or any organization in the country.”
The university is also planning a public campaign to promote the reusable water filling stations and the availability of healthy beverages at retail locations.