Water is a human right. This is the underlying message and motivation behind the Bottled Water Phase Out initiative taking place at York University. The ban on the sale of plastic bottled water began with the Canadian Federation of Students through the Back the Tap campaign, which encourages universities to take a stand against the privatization of water and to promote the public’s right to access clean and safe drinking water for free. Many educational institutions, including universities in Canada and the United State have already implemented this vital initiative, and York University will be joining them as the phase out comes to fruition in September 2015. York University committed to taking back the tap in April of 2012 when both the president of the York Federation of Students, Vanessa Hunt, and the York President and Vice- Chancellor, Mamdouh Shoukri, signed a pledge to officially begin the phase out.
Many might be wondering why university campuses are participating in this initiative to ban the sale of bottled water. Scholarly research shows that by taking back the tap, we take back our right to accessible and clean water. According to the Polaris Institute there is a significant difference between health regulations on the bottled water industry and the regulation of tap water. For example, it is estimated that bottling plants are only inspected once every 3 to 5 years, on average. Since 2000, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has placed recall warnings on 29 out of 49 bottled water products due to bacterial or chemical contaminants. In comparison, tap water, which is regulated by provincial or municipal governments, is tested several times a day.
From the City of Toronto website:
“The City of Toronto takes great pride in ensuring that residents have access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water wherever they may go. To ensure the purity of our water, the City tests samples every four to six hours to confirm the absence of bacteria. Our goal is to always meet or exceed the Ministry of the Environment's Ontario Drinking Water Standards.” (source: City of Toronto)
By these standards we can all be assured that the water running through our taps is safe and clean. In addition, the ban on the sale of bottled water is about the health of our environment and spreading awareness on the waste that is accumulated through the production of bottled water. Other issues related to production are the use of fossil fuels, which contributes to climate change and the depletion of water resources due to the high demand for bottled water.
Taking back the tap, is aimed at enabling a deep awareness of the issues that exist around access to water, a basic human right. As Pamela Persaud, member of the President’s Sustainability Council, and Chair of the bottled water phase out on York’s campuses has said,
“The University’s commitment to phase out the sale of bottled water is an important part of York’s global leadership in sustainability, social responsibility and justice.”
In order to transition staff, students and faculty into a campus free of the sale of bottled water, the University has installed over 65 water refill stations in many of the buildings located at Keele and Glendon. There are also over 200 water fountains located on both campuses. Along with the infrastructure implementation, there are on-going initiatives to educate, engage and raise awareness about the plastic bottled water phase out on the Keele and Glendon campuses. These include events such as Red and White Day - a great opportunity to let students know about the phase out. As part of the event, along with information about the phase out, hundreds of York U reusable water bottles were handed out to York community members. In order to maintain education and awareness throughout the year, there are weekly tabling events in the Red Zone (Vari Hall Rotunda) to promote the phase out to students. Other information and education points include articles on Y-file, YU Connect (student organizations), administrative listservs, a dedicated website that includes FAQs, York Orientation Directors Association (college student governments), YU Start (new incoming students), the YFS, Banners in the Rotunda, etc. It has been an exciting process to implement such a great initiative.