It’s common knowledge by now that bottled water is not good for the environment. Each year, only 23% of all plastic is recycled, which means that 38 billion water bottles — more than $1 billion worth of plastic — gets wasted. In one year, the bottled water industry uses up about 17 million barrels of oil, which is enough to fuel 1.3 million vehicles for a full year. In addition, the energy used to create bottled water could power 190,000 homes.
In order to fight the unsustainable bottled water industry, many places have begun banning them. However, a new study has found that there are unintended consequences of banning bottled water, including an increase in the consumption of sugary beverages without a reduction in plastic waste.
The University of Vermont study, which has been published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that more sugar-sweetened beverages were shipped to the college’s campus after the university banned bottled water, while the number of bottles shipped per person actually increased.
“Because it appears that many bottled water consumers instead decided to purchase other bottled beverages, the best result, nutritionally, would have been for them to select calorie- and sugar-free options, such as seltzer, unsweetened tea, or diet soda,” said UVM professors in the study’s conclusions. “However, the data suggest that some consumers increased their consumption of calorically sweetened drinks, such as soda and sports drinks, which could add to their liquid calorie and added sugars consumption, thus increasing the risk of weight gain.”
Other methods of reducing bottled water consumption have been found to be effective, such as water filtration systems. A single water pitcher filter has been found to effectively replace as many as 300 standard 16.9-ounce bottles of water. These water filtration systems filter up to 240 gallons of water each year, at a cost of about 19 cents per day. That’s a savings of about 1,818 water bottles.
“Countertop filtration systems are a great low cost option for college dorms and classrooms,” says Joy Parker, Managing Member, PuriTeam. “These type of systems can be attached to most standard faucets by the consumer; no professional installation is needed. In order to successfully ban bottled water on college campuses we must provide an easily obtained filtered water source.”
However, such methods can’t really be implemented easily on a college campus, and though the ban didn’t exactly work, UVM officials have said that they don’t plan on scrapping the policy.
However, UVM is now working on ways to make water the more “convenient choice” on campus as a result of the study. The college plans to start providing free cups for people to fill with water in retail dining outlets on campus, and implement a new standard that would require half of UVM Dining’s beverages to be healthy options.