Independent Minds, Working Together

Student Environmental Group Rids Campus of Bottled Water

Greenhouse leads initiative to replace disposable bottles with filtered refill models

February 7, 2013 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — The College of Wooster will no longer sell bottled water at locations on campus where students can make purchases using their “Flex” plan, thanks to a grassroots initiative by the environmental group Greenhouse.

The organizers, who started the movement three years ago, began their campaign by informing the campus community how much bottled water was being sold each week at the convenience store in Lowry Center. They then spread the word through fliers, posters, and brochures in an effort to educate the student body about the negative impact of non-reusable plastic water bottles on the environment. They also held several events, including a presentation of the documentary “Flow.” In addition, they conducted blind taste testing with bottled water and tap water to see if students could tell the difference, and they created a bottled-water sculpture to illustrate how much bottled water is consumed in an average week.

Senior Gus Fuguitt, along with classmates Erin Plews-Ogan, Abby Rider, and Kate Laubacher, led the charge. Fuguitt established an ad hoc subcommittee of the Student Government Association (SGA) and encouraged college officials to sell reusable water bottles with built-in filters in the bookstore. He also lobbied for the installation of filtered bottle refill stations at drinking fountains across campus. These bottles are now distributed to first-year students during orientation. This past fall, members of Greenhouse circulated a petition, which students signed in support of the initiative.

“The Water Bottle Committee collected 500 signatures advocating the removal of bottled water from meal-plan locations,” said Sarah-Beth Loder, Wooster’s sustainability coordinator. “SGA passed a resolution in support of the committee’s action, and the President’s Cabinet gave its stamp of approval before meeting with representatives of Coca-Cola, who supplied the College with Dasani bottled water, to iron out the details.”

Given the initial resistance to banning bottled water and the general lack of awareness on campus, members of Greenhouse were both pleased and surprised that they were able to push the measure through, according to Plews-Ogan. “It is truly remarkable and very exciting that we were able to do this in just four years,” she said. “It is encouraging to know that you really can make a difference.”

Currently, there are 25 filtered water refill stations across campus, with plans to install seven more in the next few weeks. Chuck Wagers, director of campus dining and conference services, said he is pleased with the outcome. “I am happy that we were able to collaborate to make this change and take advantage of the refilling stations to reduce our plastic bottle waste,” he said. “The process to eliminate the sale of plain bottled water could not have happened without the efforts of Gus, Erin, Abby, Kate, and Sarah-Beth, as well as the students who signed the petition, SGA, the President’s Cabinet, and the Coca-Cola Company, which worked with us to help facilitate this change.”