Bottled Water

Recognizing the negative environmental and social impacts of bottled water, Duke University has recently undertaken several efforts to reduce consumption of single use bottled water on campus.

Live Green BottleEliminate Single Use Bottled Water

Several departments at Duke University have eliminated single use bottled water.

1) The Duke University Marine Lab, in Beaufort, NC, has eliminated single use bottles of water from life and work on campus.  This elimination of single use bottles includes Dining Operations, Catering and all vending machines on the Pivers’s Island Campus.

Faculty, students, staff and visiting groups are encouraged to bring their own water bottle to events where bulk filtered water is provided from the campus dining hall.  Vending machines are being retrofitted to exclude bottled water.  Catering services on the island will provide bulk water containers for field trips and boat trips from the campus.

2) The Office of the Provost at Duke University has eliminated single use bottled water containers.  The change was inspired by Provost Peter Lange after he heard Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jackson Browne speak about the importance of living sustainably.  Lange banned plastic water bottles from the administrative offices on the second floor of the Allen Building.  The office has switched from plastic bottles to a cooler and paper cups.  Many employees have purchased durable water bottles and mugs to use instead of paper cups, eliminating even more waste.

3) Duke Continuing Medical Education has discontinued their purchase of single use bottled water.  They announced the change in an office newsletter and encouraged employees to watch this video about the impacts of bottled water.   The office will provide water in a more environmentally-responsible manner at their brown bag luncheons.

Find Alternatives to Plastic Bottles for Events

Duke University has recently undertaken several efforts to eliminate single use water bottles at events.

In August of 2010, Duke University introduced an environmentally–preferable solution to plastic water bottles for the President’s Reception event during New Student Orientation.   This event is particularly challenging because over 4,500 attendees must receive boxed lunches and drinks to-go within a span of one hour.   Rather than providing plastic water bottles, the Office of the President provided compostable water bottles made entirely from plants.  The bottles were then collected and sent to Brooks Contractor, a local commercial composter.  The use of compostable bottles is a first step in moving away from disposable plastic bottles and we hope to find even more preferable environmentally-friendly solutions in the future.
In addition, since 2010, all first-year students receive a stainless steel bottle sponsored by Sustainable Duke on move in day.  Co-sponsors have included the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Nicholas School of the Environment.  Students are encouraged to keep these bottles with them at events and to use them instead of single use bottled water throughout their time at Duke.

Student Leadership: Take Back the Tap

Choosing tap water over bottled water may seem like a simple choice: tap water costs much less, is safer, and often tastes just as good, if not better. Nonetheless, many people continue to buy bottled water, whether out of convenience or preference.

There are numerous environmental concerns with bottled water: the production and consumption of bottled water consumes energy, pollutes the environment, and contributes to global warming. Producing the plastic bottles uses energy and emits toxic chemicals.Transporting the bottled water across hundreds or thousands of miles spews carbon dioxide into the air, complicating our efforts to combat global climate change. And in the end, empty bottles are piling up in landfills.

  • Plastic bottle production in the United States annually requires about 17.6 million barrels of oil.
  • Worldwide bottling of water uses about 2.7 million tons of plastic each year.
  • About 86 percent of empty plastic water bottles in the United States land in the garbage instead of being recycled. That amounts to about two million tons of PET plastic bottles piling up in U.S. landfills each year.
  • Many plastic bottles of all types and sizes will be incinerated, which releases toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash laden with heavy metals.
  • Manufacturing the 28.6 billion PET water bottles in the United States uses the equivalent of 17.6 million barrels of oil.

Bottled water also has significant social implications for communities. Not only does bottled water contribute to a global lack of drinking water, it also causes local inaccessibility to water. In privatizing water, bottling corporations limit access to an essential resource that many believe should always be public.  

At Duke University, the student-run Take Back the Tap Campaign aims to make tap water more readily available on campus, to change students’ perceptions about drinking water, and, ultimately, to eliminate bottled water sales on campus.  The Environmental Alliance began its Take Back the Tap campaign in the spring of 2009 with a series of taste tests on The Plaza. During the summer of 2009, they tested Duke's tap water from several sources and found it to be free of eight common contaminants.

Information, facts and image courtesy of Take Back the Tap.

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