Given the popularity of bottled water, it’s arguably the new “pause that refreshes.”
But a group of Loyola University Chicago students, faculty and administrators would like bottled water drinkers to give pause and consider the environmental and human impact of their consumption.
With more than 50,000 bottles of water are sold each year on Loyola’s three Chicago area campuses, the university certainly leaves a sizeable environmental footprint. On the most basic level, there are the energy costs that go into manufacturing and transporting the bottles, and concerns about how many of the plastic bottles end up in landfills.
But there also is increasing evidence that the private water industry is tapping into public water sources around the world, raising serious environmental, social, legal, ethical and economic issues.
Consider a controversy in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where residents rioted after the government sold its water rights to a private company that promptly raised rates by 60%. Similarly, the residents of McCloud, Calif. blocked a plan by a private firm to bottle water flowing from nearby Mount Shasta.
Growing awareness of these and other water-use controversies has prompted members of the Loyola community to raises awareness on campus, culminating with a week-long colloquium April 12-16 to explore and discuss the issue.
“The goal is to raise awareness of, teach about and debate the multiple controversial issues surrounding this timely, relevant, important local and global issue,” says Nancy Tuchman, Director of the Center for Urban Environmental Research and Policy.
Tuchman organized the colloquium with John Hardt, Assistant to the President for Mission and Identity, along with a steering committee of faculty and administrators. Among the colloquium events: blind taste tests comparing tap water to bottled water; a debate on the issues between Loyola’s Debate Team and Hillsdale College; the screenings of the documentaries Tapped and Blue Gold; various lectures; and the building of sculptures using water bottles.
Student research and involvement began long before the colloquium. Amy Galanter, 22, and environmental science and Spanish major, became involved in the colloquium after taking a Solutions to Environmental Problems (STEP) course.
“In Chicago, we are fortunate to have a source of fresh, clean tap water from Lake Michigan,” Galanter says. “Why should we drink a bottle of water that has been imported from someplace else?”
Erin Cavanaugh, 24, a first year medical student, learned of the Bolivian controversy during a 2005 visit to that country. When she heard the issue being discussed on campus, she became involved.
“As a medical student, I think it’s important to be aware of such global issues,” Cavanaugh says. “I’m not sure now aware Loyola students are of this issue. We need to educate them about the impact of drinking bottled water and hopefully get them to change their habits.”