Thirsty students won't be able to buy bottled water from vending machines, food outlets or stores at the University of Ottawa starting Sept. 1.
That is when a ban on the sale of bottled water goes into effect across campus, the university announced Wednesday, the eve of Earth Day.
Pierre De Gagné, assistant director of engineering and sustainable development at the University of Ottawa's infrastructure department, said the move is intended to encourage students to drink free, healthy tap water and reduce plastic bottle waste.
Michèle Lamarche, vice-president of student affairs at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, said the move was largely driven by students, who have been working with the university to bring in the ban for more than a year.
Initially, she said, the university was concerned about upgrades to water fountains that would need to be made, as well as contracts with food services and vending machine companies that sell bottled water.
Many food outlets on campus didn't even have water fountains nearby, she said.
Bottled water bans
In 2009, the University of Winnipeg, Memorial University in St. John's, and Brandon University in Manitoba all announced they were banning bottled water sales on campus.
The University of Ottawa says it is the first university in Ontario to do so. Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., announced earlier in April that it will phase in a bottled water sale ban as it renegotiates food and vending machine contracts over the next few years.
Twenty universities in Ontario participated in Bottled Water-Free Day on March 11.
"Why have a water fountain outside when they can get people to buy the water bottle inside?" she asked.
De Gagné said he was surprised how quickly the university's food services staff managed to renegotiate with their suppliers to drop bottled water.
"It all happened through a lot of good will, I guess, and a lot of long-range thinking."
He did not know the details of the renegotiated deals.
In preparation for the ban, the university said, it has spent more than $100,000 since 2008 to improve the availability of tap water by:
- Adding goose necks to about 75 water fountains to make it easier to fill reusable bottles.
- Installing new fountains near food service outlets.
- Upgrading existing fountains with features including wheelchair accessibility, stronger pressure and better refrigeration.
Lamarche said the student federation is also doing its part by giving away hundreds of reusable bottles. It will also be selling the reusable bottles at the student-run convenience store for around the same price as a regular disposable bottle of water. And it will be installing a bank of water fountains with goose necks in the store itself.
Maps, signage on the way
Both the student federation and the university are working on maps and signage similar to washroom signage to indicate where water fountains are located. Neither Lamarche nor De Gagné thought students thought the ban would encourage thirsty students to choose pop instead of water.
"It won't reside anymore in the same machine as pop, but it won't be far away," De Gagné said.
Lamarche said drinking water issues are very personal for her because she is an archeology student who spends her summers working in the Middle East. There, drinking water isn't readily available, she said.
"The more we buy bottled water in North America, the more we say it's OK to charge people for something that should be free or really really cheap," she said. "And then governments say why do we have to worry about water infrastructure if they can buy water?"