After three years of work, Student Government votes to ditch plastic water bottles on campus

Student Government passed a resolution for the Reduction of plastic waste last Thursday, effectively calling for a cessation of the sale and distribution of plastic bottles on campus. Co-written by Lucie Lagodich ’22 and Tessa Landon ’22 of the Sustainability Committee, the resolution, if adopted by the administration, would gradually replace plastic bottles with aluminum cans or reusable alternatives.  To meet this goal, the college would negotiate a plastic-free contract with the pouring rights contractor–currently the Coca-Cola Company–that provides the college with its beverages.

“The contract [with Coca-Cola] is set to expire in June 2021,” explained Lagodich, who is also president of Take Back the Tap, a student organization working to reduce bottled water consumption on campus. “If we get this clause in now, when [Lafayette] is going out and getting the bids for new beverage providers, the bids they get back are going to be without selling plastic bottles on campus.”

Although the resolution explicitly calls for Lafayette to enforce that the pouring rights contractor cannot distribute or sell plastic water bottles, there are some beverages that are not sold in cans. The resolution reads further that the college ought to use “solely aluminum products in place of all other plastic bottle products if there is an available alternative,” so protein shakes and Yup! Milk, for example, would remain on shelves.

“Say there’s a plastic iced tea, which only comes in plastic products,” Landon explained. “That wouldn’t transfer, so it would remain a plastic product. We’re not calling for a reduction in the inventory… We’re trying to get a reduction in plastic waste in a way that is feasible.”

On the other hand, water, which is rarely sold canned yet is readily and freely available from fountains and faucets across campus, is included in the plastic bottle ban. Student Government plans to rely on and expand water infrastructure, such as water fountains and water coolers, on campus and in athletic facilities.

“There is enough water infrastructure in place for us to go through with this,” Lagodich clarified. “We made sure of that. But there are a few specific spots we were told we’d need another water fountain.”

In addition to water fountains and water coolers, Lafayette College already provides reusable water bottles to those who might need one.

“We did make sure that the Sustainability Office will always have a supply of reusable water bottles,” Lagodich said.

To enforce the resolution, should it be adopted, funding for plastic bottles requested by any student organization will be rejected. Furthermore, water coolers will be introduced at sporting events in place of standard plastic bottles.

With the substantial decrease in plastic waste there will likely be an increase in aluminum waste. Aluminum, however, is three times more recyclable than plastics, according to Landon, and as such, the resolution aligns with section 3B of the college’s Climate Action Plan 2.0: Minimizing Waste.

“Using [aluminum] also reduces carbon emissions because it takes much more energy to process plastic from soda bottles,” Landon explained. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, recycling an aluminum can uses only 5% of the energy required to produce it. Plastic bottles, on the other hand, use up to 66%.

The benefits of a plastic water bottle ban will next be pitched to the Lafayette administration itself. According to Lagodich, once a resolution passes the student body, it is often accepted by the administration, although there have been exceptions, such as last year’s initiative to raise the minimum wage on campus.

A sustainability-focused resolution of this magnitude has been in the works for years, according to Lagodich.

“I have been working on this, personally, for three years,” she added. “This is something students have been fighting for for a long time. It’s awesome to finally see it get done.”

Disclaimer: Lucie Lagodich is the news editor for the Lafayette newspaper and did not contribute writing or reporting to this article.

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