If you’re on a college campus and are frantically running from one building to another to make it to your next class on time, it’s natural to want something to drink to quench your thirst. You may turn to the nearest vending machine as a solution thanks to the efficiency and convenience that it brings to the table. What if you wanted a nice, cold bottle of water and were only greeted by sugary sodas that you had no interest in? What if this was the result of your college campus taking the unusual step of banning bottled water altogether? What would happen next?
A new study published by the American Journal of Public Health seeks to answer that very question. According to the study, restricting access to bottled water on college campuses actually statistically increases the consumption of less healthy beverages. Another side effect is that the ban increases the amount of plastic waste that a college campus has to deal with at the same time.
The study, which is appropriately called “The Unintended Consequences of Changes in Beverage Options and the Removal of Bottled Water on a University Campus,” closely tracked vending machine activity after the University of Vermont banned all bottled water sales on its campus. Not surprisingly, other unhealthy alternatives to water saw a 25 percent increase in sales almost immediately. At the same time, there was an astounding 8.5 percent increase in the total amount of plastic waste that then had to be dealt with by university officials.
Ironically, the purpose of the University of Vermont’s ban was not to spike the sales of sugary drinks at all. College officials report that they originally just wanted to encourage students to bring their own reusable water bottles that they could then fill with tap water from drinking fountains located all over campus. The university even went to the trouble of retrofitting 68 water fountains across the area to make it more convenient to use them with reusable water bottles, making it all the more interesting that the opposite effect seems to have occurred.
The International Bottled Water Association has long maintained that the restriction of bottled water will absolutely lead to the increased consumption of less healthy beverages and an increased creation of waste that must then be dealt with. Thanks to the AJPH, these findings have been confirmed in a way that is difficult to argue with. For many people, the choice between cold, healthy bottled water and an unhealthy soda alternative isn’t really a choice at all.