Take Back the Tap: Students Throw Down the Gauntlet

Student-run sustainability campaigns can be useful, but they have their limits. Leaders graduate, enthusiasm fades and improvements made over the course of a semester fall by the wayside. To bring real, lasting change to a college campus requires the collaboration of the entire community. With that in mind, students involved in the Take Back the Tap campaign at Pomona College are challenging administrators, faculty and staff to a friendly competition: a race to zero waste. 

Take Back the Tap is a campaign by the nonprofit Food & Water Watch and over 60 colleges and universities that seeks to eliminate plastic water bottles from campuses nationwide. Schools have approached the issue from different angles, with some banning the sale of water bottles on campus, some prohibiting the use of student funds to purchase water bottles and others installing water bottle filling stations. What these campaigns have in common, though, is that they are student-run. Without support from administration, faculty and staff, the students can’t be successful in eliminating plastic water bottles from campus. The success stories from Take Back the Tap, as with other sustainability projects, have come when administrators have built on student activism by passing campus-wide resolutions that will last long after those students graduate, or when faculty and staff have joined the campaign and expanded it into areas of college or university life that students may not even be aware of.

Students have started to lay some of the groundwork for a Take Back the Tap campaign at Pomona, but without input from faculty, staff and administrators, the project may not be able to make much of a difference. Last spring, environmental analysis majors Will Hummel PO ’12, Aerienne Russell PO ’12 and Annie Stoller-Patterson PO ’12 analyzed bottled water use at Pomona College as their senior capstone exercise. Of the 443 students interviewed in their project, though, 94% already owned a reusable bottle and only 8% used plastic water bottles “often” or “every day.” Their report makes it clear that, while students can still do better at remembering to fill their reusable water bottles, they are not the only ones responsible for the 31,000 plastic bottles that the Pomona College community uses every year. Catered faculty lunches often have plastic water bottles instead of water pitchers and reusable cups, pack-outs from the dining halls come with plastic water bottles by default and visitors to the Admissions Office account for many of the plastic water bottle purchases at the Coop Store. We need the support and input of all groups on campus to figure out how we can reduce the number of plastic water bottles we use.

So, Pomona, we’re challenging you. Students, we challenge you to actually use those water bottles you were given as incoming first-years instead of buying disposable ones. Faculty and staff, we challenge you to replace plastic water bottles with pitchers of water and reusable cups at your meetings and events. Administrators, we challenge you to reduce or eliminate bottled water purchases as part of your work to realize the 2009 Sustainability Action Plan designed by the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.

Do you have other ideas of ways that Pomona could reduce the use of plastic water bottles, and disposable items in general? We’d love to hear them! Send us your ideas, ditch the plastic water bottles and help us get started on this race to zero waste.

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