HCN News & Notes

College Bottled-water Bans Increase Consumption of Less-healthy Drinks

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — New research published in the American Journal of Public Health has confirmed the International Bottled Water Assoc. (IBWA) position that efforts to ban or restrict the sale of bottled water can lead to increased consumption of less-healthy beverages and plastic waste.

The study, “The Unintended Consequences of Changes in Beverage Options and the Removal of Bottled Water on a University Campus,” concluded that the bottled-water sales ban at the University of Vermont (UVM) resulted in a 25{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} increase in the consumption of sugary drinks and an 8.5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} increase in the amount of plastic bottles entering the waste stream.

Research shows that, when bottled water is not available in a vending machine, people choose other packaged beverages, which may contain sugar, caffeine, and other additives; they don’t necessarily go looking for a water fountain. The study of the UVM bottled-water sales ban supports that conclusion.

“The data show that per-capita shipments of bottles, calories, sugars, and added sugars increased significantly when bottled water was removed. Shipments of healthy beverages declined significantly, whereas shipments of less-healthy beverages increased significantly. As bottled water sales dropped to zero, sales of sugar-free beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages increased,” said Chris Hogan, IBWA vice president of Communications.

“The purpose of the bottled-water sales ban was to encourage students to carry reusable water bottles that could be filled with tap water. That did not happen,” he added. “The study found that the increase in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption occurred even with the university’s efforts to encourage water-fountain use, retrofitting 68 water fountains so that reusable water bottles could be used and educational campaigns to inform consumers and handing out free, reusable water bottles at campus events.”

Such bans, he argued, are a misguided attempt to deal with a waste issue that would be better addressed through efforts to increase the recycling rates of all packaged drinks. “Bottled-water containers are the most highly recycled containers in curbside programs, and data derived from EPA figures demonstrate that plastic water bottles make up less than one-third of 1{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the U.S. waste stream. So getting rid of bottled water on campus will not make a significant improvement to waste issues.”

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