Bottled Water Ban Will Hurt the Golden Bears

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Believe it or not, bears don't brush their teeth. Ever. So why should you, a Golden Bear, ever brush your teeth?

With reference to an extended metaphor from Rose Whitson's March 15 op-ed, "UC Berkeley, Bears and Bottled Water," as a matter of fact, bears don't do problem sets, take notes, or study for midterms, so why should you have to? And it is true, bears don't drink bottled water, so does this mean you should kick that horrible water bottle habit? Today, it's easy to jump aboard the anti-bottled water train, but some of the trendy arguments don't exactly hold up.

Bottled water is safer than tap water. At least by their respective track records, bottled water has proven to be safer over time with far fewer cases of widespread health detriments. First, public water resources continue to deliver contaminated water to faucets around the country largely as a result of an expansive and out-of-date waterworks infrastructure. Nearly 40 years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, we still see new chemicals polluting our waters. Chemical contamination in public water persists today; for example, hormone (or "endocrine") disruptors in the water have caused the feminization of fish and frogs in public waters. That somehow sounds safer to drink?

The argument that "since the government monitors our water with rigorous tests and sophisticated agencies and commissions, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), public water is somehow safer" simply doesn't hold. If you compare the processes of purification and transportation, public water is out-of-date and less safe. Bottled water's method of reverse osmosis has proven to be highly effective at removing parasites and bacteria from the water, and some bottling companies go a step further with Ozonation, which can also remove iron, viruses, sulfur and manganese.

Because bottled water is treated more as a product on an assembly line, it can be more effectively monitored for quality control. If a malignant organism breaks out in the water, our public water infrastructure has no plan to control the situation without interrupting or limiting access to water. A water bottling company needs only to retract that batch or stop production for a particular cycle, then resume practically uninterrupted.

An important benefit from bottled water that many easily ignore is its great value in times of emergency due to its versatility, portability and long shelf life. Look back to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 - bottled water was being dropped into areas such as New Orleans when public water infrastructure was either unavailable or destroyed from the disaster. In fact, take a look at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) lists of emergency supplies - clean, bottled water is a necessity in an emergency situation.

Bottled water is a precious resource in times of unexpected disaster. How does it make sense to limit supply of that resource by banning it in especially densely populated areas? San Francisco has already started this, and now Berkeley is considering a similar measure.

Recently, some members of the UC Berkeley campus community have proposed "phasing bottled water off our UC Berkeley campus" in the upcoming spring 2011 ASUC elections via referendum.

Aside from some of the societal or philosophical fallacies of bottled water, every student should deeply consider the negative impact this action would have directly on our campus.

UC Berkeley is currently under a 10-year $6.2 million contract with Coca-Cola Co., including four contract stakeholders: the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, ASUC Auxiliary, Residential and Student Services Programs and the Recreational Sports Facility. Cal Dining, for example, receives a $50,000 rebate from Coca-Cola, totaling roughly $750,000 a year.

I would like to ask those proposing this bottled water ban two things: 1) How have you considered the repercussions of our contract agreement with Coca-Cola, and how will this bottled water ban affect Berkeley's appeal in contract renegotiations, and 2) Where do you propose these contract stakeholders find adequate revenue to replace the loss from a bottled water ban?

"When you have limitations on beverages, you limit sales," said Cal Dining Director Shawn LaPean.

I don't need to spell out the results of decreased funding to these parts of the university. Simply put, a bottled water ban will invariably lead to higher costs as departments lose funding.

Finally, this limitation on choice also presents a limitation on personal freedom and, incidentally, healthy options. There's no doubt that banning water bottles infringes on individuals' freedom of choice to buy a bottle of water when they walk on campus. This is not to say it is illegal to impose such a ban, but still a limitation of personal freedom.

Coincidentally, this imposition of freedom also happens to be a limitation of healthy options. While your universal beverage options include the water fountain or bathroom sink, when a student brings a dollar to the vending machine, they would then be left with options of soda and various sugar-packed juices.

UC Berkeley students are smart, and they should be able to see that this proposed bottled water ban will have far worse effects on students and the campus community than it first seems. From the fiscal impact to the limitation of healthy options, banning bottled water is not the right choice for Cal students.


Shawn Lewis is a UC Berkeley student. Reply to [email protected]

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