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The Great Water Bottle Debate: A Conversation

By Tim Brogan
On April 11, 2012

The following is a fictional conversation between narrator Tom Borgan and a spokesperson for the International Bottled Water Association.

"Thanks for agreeing to sit down with me, Tom."

"No problem," I responded.

"Are you aware of recent efforts to phase out bottled water on college campuses?"

"Yeah. I know University of Vermont just banned bottled water along with a dozen other schools. And 90 schools have begun restricting its use."

"Would you say there is support for such action at the University of Connecticut?"

"Well, people I talk to love the additions of quick-fill water dispensers at the Rec. Center and Union. If these were put in residence halls and reusable containers were given out, I don't think students would mind getting rid of bottled water."

I thought to myself, their wallets wouldn't either!

"But Tom, when unable to purchase bottled water, consumers choose less healthy drinks."

"Excuse me, Mr... I'm sorry, what was your name?"

"Jones."

"Mr. Jones. I'm insulted that you would pander to the self-destructive consumers you believe us to be. If UConn Students can handle microeconomics and chemistry, we can surely tell the difference between Coke and Dihydrogen monoxide."

"Excuse me?"

"That's water! See what I mean?"

I was given a quizzical look that said "good comeback," which I took as an invitation to keep going.

"You know, a colleague of mine wrote an article entitled 'Bottle Water Ban an Unnecessary Intrusion.' Does he work for you?"

"Certainly not!"

"Now now, Mr. Jones, I'm only kidding. Under false pretenses of health and purity, companies extract and bottle a substance should be universally accessible and free and sell it back to us for profit. They've privatized our most human need, to drink water, invading our televisions and billboards with lies about a 'superior product.' Talk about intrusiveness!"

"It remains to be said that our product is safe, convenient, and packaged in recyclable containers," he said, looking smug after delivering his most polished line.

"Look," I responded, "you're a representative from a bottled water trade association. You're not paid to see it any other way. But it's disingenuous to say bottled water is safe. You should add the disclaimer, 'but certainly not safer than tap water.' And students can't be socially engineered to believe that the only convenient way to drink water is out of plastic bottles. With tap water readily accessible, a reusable bottle is easily as convenient. And it takes a short time - some say it takes three weeks to form a habit - to get used to grabbing your bottle as part of your morning routine. How many times do you forget your wallet, or keys, or cell phone?"

Another pause.

"Do you really wish to give up your right to purchase a product," he said, "just to make environmentalists feel good?"

"In his article, my colleague also alluded to the 'giving up your personal liberties' prophecy, which I have to tell you, Mr. Jones, is self-fulfilling. The real threat to liberty is the privatization of a common-use resource," I exclaimed. "And your misconception that an environmentalist's only solace is from environmental guilt tells me you don't know what an environmentalist is. Shall I explain?"

"We're running short on time, Tom."

"Right. Let me conclude with this," I said, "and I thank you for giving me this much of your time. It's is a failure of imagination to frame this issue as if we're giving something up. Students are becoming aware of the things we gain - the things we had until bottled water - like economic security from the will of private water companies. That's why there is growing support for the removal of bottled water from college campuses."

After a dismissive sigh, my interviewer said, "I'm going to grab a soda; would you like one?"

"No, thanks," I said.

Though fictional, the conversation you've just read is factually accurate. My hope is that you will similarly respond, "no thanks" when the activists on Fairfield Way - they were there after I wrote a related article entitled "No More UConn Bottled Water" - bribe you for your signature on a petition against a bottled water ban* with, you guessed it, a Coke product.

*While I'm not opposed to it, I don't argue for an outright ban. I simply wish to relay the unavoidable truth that a better water infrastructure and growing student support could render bottled water at UConn obsolete, like at UVM and elsewhere.

 


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