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UC students say no to plastic water bottles

17 October 2022

University of Canterbury students want to reduce plastic water bottles on campus according to survey results released just in time for Recycling Week, 17 October to 21 October.


UC is encouraging staff and students to bring resuable water bottes to campus and fill them at filtered, chilled water stations to reduce non-recyclable waste on campus and reduce the amount of plastic that is entering the environment.

Over 460 students responded to the survey, which was conducted as part of UC’s waste minimisation strategy to identify barriers to reducing plastic bottled water – and waste – on campus. UC’s Waste Plan aims to reduce all Single Use Plastic Bottles (SUPB) on campus by 20% by 2025 and by 50% by 2030.

Most students knew why it was important to bring reusable bottles to campus with 445 students agreeing that using a reusable bottle is better for the environment. 369 respondents said they often bring their own bottle to campus; 331 ‘never’ purchase bottled water on campus and 113 ‘rarely’ do.

“Although we have focused on plastic bottled water in this survey, we know that students are concerned about reducing plastic use altogether. To help us refine our plan we wanted to understand why students would pay for water, when it is freely available and comes in plastic. The survey has highlighted some important drivers and barriers such as access to cold, filtered water, or even better signage for refill stations,” UC Sustainability Manager Matt Morris said.    

Of the sample, 73% of students try to reduce plastic consumption in other areas of their lives as well.

Asked for further suggestions, there were some thoughtful responses from the survey. “I would not recommend that UC manufactures a line of plastic water bottles as people often lose these and they produce more emissions than single use bottles (I think). I would support metal drink bottles (I find the double-walled Sistema bottles to be great), as these have much better recycling lifespans,” one respondent said.

Many comments were quite practical. “Ideally all single use plastics would be banned, but if that is not possible, removing single use water bottles from vending machines would be good, and students will still have access to water on campus.”

Students strongly supported the idea of banning SUPB on campus. They also wanted to see more drinking foundations on campus, particularly around high traffic areas such as the Central Library, Undercroft, and Engineering Core, while 254 students supported more outdoor drinking foundations.

Some students used SUPB as a cost-effective alternative to reusable bottles, but generally students supported subsidised good quality bottles rather than free giveaways of lower quality bottles.

Plastic items break down into microplastics, which are invading oceans, the air and even the remotest corners of the planet. UC PhD student Alex Aves found the first evidence of microplastics in Antarctica in June this year.

The survey was conducted by the UCSA, supported by Head of Psychology and environmental psychologist Professor Don Hine and UC Business School Senior Lecturer Joya Kemper who specialises in social and environmental issues in production and consumption systems.

UC’s Sustainability Office will be on a mission to increase awareness of drinking fountains on campus during Recycling Week, and beyond, through social media, signage and maps of water refill stations. The team is calling on students and staff to reduce their single use plastic bottle consumption.

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