Debate flows from water bottle initiative

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At the Feb. 23 ASUC Senate meeting, UC Berkeley senior Rose Whitson conducted a taste test.

As part of a presentation to convince senators to support her initiative for the 2011 ASUC General Elections, which calls for the campus to phase out the sale of bottled water, Whitson - director of the ASUC Sustainability Team - presented each senator with two cups of water, and after drinking each, asked them to vote on which they liked better. Tap water won.

Taking into account the environmental impacts and waste associated with bottled water, Whitson hopes her "End the Sale of Bottled Water" referendum will lead the campus to a more sustainable future, though she said she is mindful of the challenges to getting there.

"It's going to be very difficult, and for us to actually make change, we're probably going to need to provide a very, very sound fiscal plan," Whitson said.

If the referendum passes, it will have no authority to actually phase out bottled water on campus, but proponents hope that the statement of support would prompt the campus to begin doing so.

Whitson had originally tried to bring her initiative to voters through a petition, but unclear requirements in the ASUC Constitution and Bylaws inhibited her from attaining the proper amount of signatures. So Cooperative Movement Senator Elliot Goldstein authored a senate bill, and it was placed on the ballot after a majority of senators voted on it via the referenda process at the March 9 senate meeting. Now, voters will decide whether there is sufficient support for the question.

Sophomore Shawn Lewis does not think there is.

Even if it should pass, Lewis - president of the Berkeley College Republicans and an outspoken opponent of the referendum - said he does not think the general campus population would truly support phasing out bottled water, citing Whitson's struggle to get the proper amount of signatures during the petition process. One of Lewis's primary concerns is the vagueness of the referendum's language.

"This seems more of a symbolic measure, really, than any kind of positive impact on environmentalism or sustainability because there is no thought-out plan to it," Lewis said.

Lewis said although he supports environmentally conscious efforts, he does not believe this petition is the right approach, favoring instead to focus on a lack of campus recycling.

Furthermore, chair of the campus Beverage Alliance Kurt Libby said in a statement to The Daily Californian that if the campus were to actually eliminate bottled water sales, it could lose about $150,000 a year in revenue.

Goldstein, however, remains unconvinced.

He said that certain unclear aspects of the campus's contract with Coca-Cola call into question exactly how much of a financial impact bottled water sale reductions would have and that if the campus decides to submit a Request for Proposal on a new beverage contract, which he said he expects to happen, the re-negotiations could accommodate for a phasing out of bottled water.

Goldstein said he hopes the referendum's passage will have an impact on other campuses, as well.

"Should this pass, my hope is that this will send ripple effects across the country where other colleges that have students that are also environmentally conscious will pass similar efforts to create their own phasing out," Goldstein said.


J.D. Morris is the lead student government reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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