Written by: Amneet Mann, News Editor
An SFU student group is lobbying to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on Burnaby campus.
Ban the Bottle SFU is made up of 15 undergraduate and graduate students, and it is led by Mireta Stranberg-Salmon, a student in the School of Resource and Environmental Management. In an interview with The Peak, Stranberg-Salmon explained that she was inspired to start the group because of a World Water Day event held earlier this year by SFU’s Pacific Water Research Center (PWRC).
During the event, the topic of bottled water at SFU came up. As a result, Strandberg-Salmon decided to approach Zafar Adeel, PWRC’s executive director, to discuss starting a bottled water ban at the university.
Before this, Stranberg-Salmon had led a similar initiative at her Burnaby high school and succeeded at banning bottled water at the institution.
“So I always thought it would be pretty cool if we could do it at SFU too,” she said. “But it seemed kind of big and scary so I wasn’t sure if it would happen.”
The original Ban the Bottle SFU group contained a mix of Adeel’s graduate students and Strandberg-Salmon’s own friends. The group is supported by PWRC, the SFU Sustainability Office, and the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS). PWRC has agreed to help the group with promotional material such as printing stickers, and the SFSS informally agreed to help promote the group on its social media during a board of directors meeting held on November 9.
In an interview with The Peak, Adeel explained that if SFU were to enact this ban, the school would need to make three major changes. First, SFU would have to work with vendors and SFU Dining Services to ensure that bottled water is not sold anywhere on campus.
“I know some of these are contractual processes — they can’t be done overnight — but there’s a timeline that hopefully the university can put in place, particularly through their procurement, to enforce bottled water is not sold anywhere on campus,” said Adeel.
Second, SFU would have to ensure that there are an adequate number of water fountains and water bottle refill stations around campus. Adeel noted that in the Technology and Science Complex (TASC) 2, where his office is, there are no fountains or refill stations.
According to Ban the Bottle SFU’s research, installing a refill station costs approximately $2,200 in the first year, and approximately $200 in subsequent years for filter changes. Based on data presented by the refill stations’ displays, the group noted that in high-traffic areas such as the Academic Quadrangle, the stations had successfully avoided over 1 million disposable water bottles since being installed.
Third, SFU would have to raise awareness among the student body and faculty on why banning bottled water is important and on what alternatives are available. The group is investigating the possibility of launching a bottle-share program on campus — similar to the recently launched TumblerShare — so that individuals who forget their bottles at home can find cheap, accessible alternatives.
Adeel explained that the bottled water ban was an important initiative due to the environmental, health, economical, and social ramifications of bottled water.
“Globally it’s a major problem, and there’s millions of bottles which are ending up in oceans or in water bodies and are causing harm,” said Adeel. Bottled water has also been found to contain microplastics — the health effects of which are currently unknown — which are not found in tap water.
Adeel also noted that bottled water can also be expensive for students.
“Now, there is a time and place for bottled water [ . . . ] but to do that here on campus where you have ample access to very good quality water. . . Economically, it just doesn’t make sense.” – Zafar Adeel, Executive Director, PWRC
Finally, Adeel noted that a bottled water ban would align with the reputation SFU is hoping to maintain as an environmentally progressive university. Adeel went on to say that Ban the Bottle SFU would enable the university to make progress on its Zero Waste Initiative, working towards its 20-year sustainability goals.
The group is currently focusing on campaigning for this ban on the Burnaby campus first, as the Surrey and Vancouver campuses are under different contracts with vendors.
Stranberg-Salmon noted that the group’s next steps are to hold a meeting with SFU administration to better understand the type of obstacles the initiative might need to overcome, as well as the type of support the group can expect from the university. Ban the Bottle SFU is also looking to hold a movie night on campus near the end of November, during which they will screen a documentary on the topic and hope to gain further support and notice on campus.
As Ban the Bottle SFU begins to raise awareness among the student body and meet with university administration, Strandberg-Salmon noted that she had been encouraged so far by the responses and support the group had been receiving. “I’m really excited to be at a university that’s really encouraging student engagement and leadership [ . . . ] I didn’t really think anything like this could become a reality at a big school like SFU coming from my high school, but it seems like it could actually happen and so that’s really exciting,” she said.
Strandberg-Salmon followed up in an email with The Peak to add that she hopes a successful bottled water ban will inspire students consume less of other single-use plastic items and pave the way for other student-led sustainability initiatives at SFU.
With files from SFU News.