Ottawa school to host 'bottled water free day'

Students at the University of Ottawa are looking to "back the tap" by going without bottled water for at least one day.

Students at the University of Ottawa are looking to "back the tap" by going without bottled water for at least one day.

The school is one of more than 20 Ontario universities hoping to make March 11 "Bottled Water Free Day." It's a national campaign aimed at drawing awareness about the environmental and economic impact of plastic water bottles.

The University of Ottawa's student-run store will not be selling bottled war that day, and the Chartwells on-campus dining service has agreed to follow suit.

The vending machines, however, will have to remain plugged in, according to Michele Lamarche, the student union's vice-president of student affairs.

"Vending machines, unfortunately, we can't do anything for March 11," she said. "We're just going to make sure we have as many volunteers as possible located by all the vending machines and letting students know, 'here's a reusable water bottle, why don't you go get some free water, instead of paying two dollars?'"

Lamarche said joining this campaign is the latest in a series of efforts to curb the use of bottled water on campus in recent years. More water fountains have been added around the school and reusable bottles were made more available. 

The event is a joint project by the Canadian Federation of Students, the Sierra Youth Coalition and the Polaris Institute.

Ban the bottle movement

Elly Adeland, a campaigner with the Polaris Institute in Ottawa, said she's seeing a growing movement across the country to ban the water bottle. Last March, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities passed a resolution asking Canadian cities and towns to stop making bottled water available for purchase on municipal property.

More than 70 municipalities and several school boards have recently phased out the provision and sale of bottled water, Adeland said.

A major aspect of the campaign is to encourage people to drink tap water. Big companies selling bottled water rely on the popular perception that drinking water from a bottle is safer.

But a recent U.S. study suggested that some leading brands of bottled water are no less polluted than tap water — despite costing nearly 2,000 times more. Other research has fuelled concerns about chemicals leaching into the water from the plastic.

"Here in Canada, we have great local tap water, and we need to remember that we should secure that access," Adeland said.