Pitzer Senate Bans Disposable Water Bottles from Vending Machines

Pitzer College will be installing more hydration stations to increase access to free water. (Abdullah Shahid • The Student Life)

On Mar. 6, Pitzer Student Senate voted to approve a resolution banning bottled water sales on campus by a nearly unanimous decision. The motion is the culmination of a year’s worth of effort by Environmental Representative Taylor Novick-Finder PZ ’17, who proposed the resolution and worked alongside the administration to ensure its passage.

The ban applies primarily to Pitzer’s vending machines, since disposable plastic water bottles were already not sold at McConnell Dining Hall or at any campus eatery. To further reduce consumption of plastic water bottles, Novick-Finder wants to work Bon Appétit to change McConnell's policy of providing bottled water in packouts. 

Novick-Finder explained that he was motivated by a desire to make Pitzer's campus more environmentally friendly. The proposal itself cites the scale of American plastic waste and its consequences, including the existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“Pitzer's core values, environmental projects, and sustainability initiatives on campus are really important to me,” Novick-Finder said. “I was always confused as to why we still had bottled water in the machines. It seemed contradictory to our values of sustainability and all the things that environmental analysis classes at the 5Cs, particularly Pitzer, teach, to have bottled water.”

Approximately one thousand plastic water bottles are sold from Pitzer’s vending machines annually, which translates to less than one bottle per student per year. The resolution does not apply to sodas, Gatorade or other drinks on the basis that they are not readily replaceable with tap water.

Currently, plans are in motion to install free hydration stations in every tower of Mead Hall. Scheduled renovation on Mead will be modified to include the installation of water stations, which should be completed by the start of the fall semester. Novick-Finder said he intends to work with the new Environmental Representative next year to propose additional hydration stations in Pitzer-Atherton-Sanborn and Phase II. Alternatives to water bottles have been placed throughout campus already, including the Pit Stop Café, which sells boxed water in milk carton-like packaging.

Sale of water from the vending machines generates about $825 per year, which is 40 percent of all revenue from the machines. Currently, that money goes towards various campus events. Prior to Associate Dean of Student Life Dan Hirsch’s arrival at the college, vending machine revenue had gone towards kegs for school-sponsored events. Hirsch hopes to redirect the money to substance-free events.

“Any time a revenue source is removed from the College, there are budget implications. However, the total revenue generated from water bottle sales in the vending machines was not significant so the impact on students will be negligible,” Hirsch said. Hirsch wrote in an email to Novick-Finder, “I think [banning water bottles] would significantly impact our relationship [with the vending company]. We would likely need to find some other way to supplement the loss of the water sales to make maintaining business here worth their while.”

Companies such as Nestlé and PepsiCo (whose subsidiary Aquafina, produces the bottled water sold in Pitzer’s vending machines) have come under fire for bottling California’s dwindling reserves. According to Hirsch, the vending representative for  Pomona and Pitzer, was “Not surprised.” A statement from the company mentions that the suggestion to ban water bottles gets received annually, and in response estimated a 30-35 percent reduction in revenue for the college.

The statement goes on to reference that PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Company have endeavored to be more sustainable through reducing plastic use in Aquafina water bottles (the brand that stocks the vending machines) and biodegradable plastics in in Dasani bottles (which are not sold on campus).

Moving beyond banning plastic bottles, Novick-Finder hopes to continue work on the Pitzer Green Initiative Fund (PGIF) to benefit student sustainability initiatives. The Campus Life Committee grant has funded the PGIF, but because this grant expires at the end of the school year, the PGIF will appeal to the Pitzfunder process of seeking alumni support. 

Novick-Finder also took a moment to address some concerns over banning water bottles. For instance, some argue potable water is an important resource in the event of a natural disaster. He estimated that the small amount of water present in Pitzer’s four vending machines—about a “couple hundred bottles”—most likely would not be sufficient in providing comprehensive aid.

“I don’t mean to be cynical,” he said, “but I don’t think that’s really a rational back-up plan if there’s any kind of serious emergency.”

Altogether, the amount of water bottles sold on campus is small, which Novick-Finder acknowledges, saying the resolution is more of a symbolic act he hopes other colleges will follow. He also referenced the moral implications of the resoultion with regard to the drought. 

“We're trying to let the college demonstrate that, you know, this is one of the core values of the college, it's part of the climate action plan, and it's just something that's taught and promoted within the faculty, staff and students of the college, so I thought it was important to uphold that value and stay consistent with the message that the college demonstrates,” Novick-Finder said.

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