GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Becky Boone, a senior at Richard Stockton College, makes a special trip across campus every day to fill her big green water bottle at one of seven water-refill stations.
“It tastes much better than the old water fountains,” she said.
It’s also free, unlike the $1.50 bottles of Aquafina sold in the campus vending machines.
The stations, part of Stockton’s sustainability program, have refilled the equivalent of more than 80,000 plastic water bottles since the first was installed in September, said Don Woolslayer, Stockton’s director of plant management. Each station has a counter that tracks how many times it is used.
“We’ve tried to put them in places where there would be high-volume usage, like the Athletic Center and outside the gym,” Woolslayer said. Several were incorporated into college renovation projects.
The refill stations are also at the heart of a national movement to reduce and even ban the use of bottled water on college campuses. Stations at Stockton have the support of the Student Senate, which is encouraging the college to add more, especially in the new Campus Center, where there are none.
A student environmental group would like Stockton to follow the lead of other colleges nationally that have banned bottled water on campus.
Water Watch/Energy Corps presented a petition to the Student Senate looking for support for a ban. Seventeen colleges have complete bans, and a dozen more have partial bans, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
The debate has generated a national water war, of sorts, complete with websites and videos as bottlers challenge student and environmental groups for the right to sell water alongside juice and soda. According to the Beverage Marketing Corp., bottled water sales accounted for $10.6 billion in sales in 2010, with Nestle Waters North America, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo accounting for more than half of all sales.
Many used bottles get recycled, but the problem of discarded plastic water bottles has become large enough that the National Park Service announced this month that it would ban the sale of small water bottles in the Grand Canyon.
A.J. Vervoot, 20, of Eatontown, Monmouth County, chairman of the Student Senate’s Student Welfare Committee, said the Senate decided to promote installing more water refill stations on campus rather than supporting a total ban on bottled water.
“We didn’t want to force it on students,” he said. “We want them to take the initiative on their own.”
April Hamblin, 21, an environmental science major and president of Water Watch, said the group has purchased 1,000 reusable water bottles they plan to give away to students in the next couple of weeks. The bottles will include a sticker promoting use of the refill “hydration stations.”
“I think this is a good start,” said Hamblin, an Oakcrest High School graduate. “I still think there is more we can do.”
Stockton also has recycling containers on campus, but Hamblin said that even if water bottles are recycled, there will still be a lot of waste. She recalled attending a dinner on campus during which dozens of water bottles were opened and many were never finished.
“People take a few sips and throw them away,” she said.
Woolslayer said it was an article he saw on Seattle University’s bottled water ban in 2010 that inspired him to investigate the refill stations, which are a combination traditional water fountain and water-bottle refill site. He said they cost about $1,000 — somewhat more than plain water fountains — and require filters be changed about every 30,000 refills, but he believes the investment is worth it in reduced waste and sustainability.
Ann Rottinghaus, marketing and communications manager for Elkay, said her firm began offering refill stations in 2010 in response to the increased use of water bottles. She said college campuses have been at the forefront of the effort to reduce bottled water usage, but the stations have also been installed in corporate headquarters and airports.
“It’s not just about reducing water bottles,” she said. “It’s about providing free water.”
She said the refill stations operate using a sensor, so they are hands-free and dispense water much faster than the traditional water fountain. A traditional fountain can also be retrofitted with a refill station attachment.
Hamblin said Stockton hosted a water tasting last semester to promote the stations and only 11 percent of students preferred bottled water. The rest said the water from the refill station was better or just as good as bottled water.
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