Bottled water’s convenience beats recycling incentives

The Students for Environmental Concerns has plans to launch a “campaign”:http://secs-uiuc.blogspot.com this fall against buying bottled water. I’d like to commend SECS for their effort to change the destructive consumer habits of the student body. Well done.

Now I’m going to tell you why it’s not going to work.

Americans have known about the number of plastic bottles that clutter landfills and wash up on beaches since bottled water first became popular. SECS’ campaign reminds me of the Polaris Institute’s “Inside the Bottle,” which proclaims itself to be “the people’s campaign on the bottled water industry.” Inside the Bottle was started in 2007, and the reaction was quite similar to the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 — or so I’m told. The campaign and the day experienced initial hype but fizzled out in following years.

I wasn’t alive to witness the original tree huggers in all their hippie glory. I’m sure it was heartwarming and majestic as the delicate fragrance of fresh compost filled the air. But even with Earth Day, climate change awareness and registered student organizations such as SECS, deforestation is still happening. Endangered species are still endangered, and a few have gone extinct. People still buy bottled water.

This is not to say that the “Save the Earth” movement was for nothing. It got the country thinking about recycling, put a meaning behind the term “carbon footprint” and forever revolutionized industry. Today, it is not enough to produce a reputable product — it has to “give back,” without taking much if anything away from the environment.

Dasani water bottles now boast a tiny green leaf below and left of the company’s logo that reads: “plant bottle, redesigned plastic, recyclable as ever.” Now the consumer of said plastic water bottle can be confident that, while that water bottle will eventually be drained, discarded and, with any hope, find itself in the nearest blue Feed The Thing recycling bin that were instituted throughout campus in 2010.

Without delving into the health risks posed by BPA and other carcinogens, we know that bottled water is bad for the environment. So why do we still buy it? Reasons range from forgetting a reusable water bottle at home to liking the taste of a particular brand of filtered H2O. Regardless, consumer culture demands that bottled water be sold at gas stations, megamarts and, yes, even campus bookstores. Water is biologically essential, and bottled water is convenient — the human body can only be sustained for about one week without water.

But SECS brings up another interesting fact in support of their campaign: Illinois tap water is (relatively) safe to drink. In countries such as India or Morocco, residents think twice before ingesting untreated water, and experienced travelers know that they will spend more money in these countries on drinking water than souvenirs, transportation and food combined. My guilt generated by buying a 2-liter bottle of water for my trek through Marrakesh only held until I realized that the Sahara is freaking hot and falling off a camel dehydrated was not exactly an option for me. So I bought the bottles and (gasp) didn’t recycle them. My catharsis takes the form of a Nalgene bottle that I will faithfully tote with me to the gym, as I have for years. So good luck, SECS – just know that those who listen may not be the ones you’re trying to reach.

_Renée is a senior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]_