By Emily Landgraf
While many Rider students are making holiday wish lists, others are simply hoping for a plastic-free campus.
Banning the sale of plastic bottles would be an ideal first step toward a greener community, said junior Yuliya Labko, a member of Sustainable Rider.
Sustainable Rider, a student-run club that focuses on ways to make Rider more environmentally friendly, is trying to educate students on the problems with using plastic bottles and believes that banning their sale on campus would greatly benefit the University.
Plastic water bottles may seem like a necessity to most college students, but Labko explained that there are other ways to get water.
“An alternative to plastic water bottles would be to obtain a reusable bottle,” she said. “You pay once and you have a bottle forever.”
Sustainable Rider is looking into cans as an alternative to plastic bottles in vending machines, as well as in Cranberry’s and Java City, said Junior Megan Cook, the incoming treasurer of the club.
“Cans are much more earth-friendly than plastic bottles, so that’s an alternative,” Cook said.
Labko said educating students is critical.
“As a club, we have been trying to work on modifying student behavior while educating the public about the negative impacts of using plastic bottles,” she said.
Labko believes that students should be aware of how dangerous plastic bottles are to the environment.
“More than 80 percent of plastic bottles are not recycled and are thrown in a landfill where they never degrade, or they are incinerated, releasing tons of harmful chemicals into the air and soil,” she said.
According to Labko, bottled water is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency like tap water. If bottled water were to be contaminated, she said, it is likely that consumers would be unaware.
Aside from the environmental aspect of the issue, Cook said that reducing the use of plastic water bottles on campus would benefit students financially as well.
“A student who buys one bottle of water a day for every day we’re at Rider spends upward of $1,200 over four years,” she said. “That’s a lot of money for any college student.”
Cook believes that Sustainable Rider is doing what is best for the Rider community.
“There is actually a great deal of logic behind our thinking,” Cook said. “If we could get Quench machines or something similar all over campus — in the dorms, in every building, essentially — we could save an enormous amount of non-renewable items.”
Junior Michelle Meredith is more skeptical about how well banning plastic bottles on Rider’s campus would work.
“I refill the water bottles that I buy at work,” she explained. “I probably go through about one or two a week. The biggest issue I have with reusable bottles is I have to take them home and clean them. I know it sounds ridiculous and lazy, but it’s especially an issue when you put coffee in them.”
Meredith is also concerned about what the University would do in the event of another filtration plant shutdown, like the one that occurred in early October of this year, without plastic water bottles.
“If we ban water bottles, that could be bad if something like that happens again,” she said.
Cook argued that Rider could avoid the issue of plastic bottles in that situation by purchasing canned water.
Labko said she is proud of the club’s successes, but acknowledges that they have much yet to accomplish.
“Our next steps are to talk to Pat Mosto — the new dean [of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences] who is extremely supportive of the movement — prepare for the Pepsi contract draft, and move onward with T-shirts and events showing support of the movement,” Labko said.
Members of Sustainable Rider will be on the board to draft the renewed contract with Pepsi this coming year, said Labko.
The group is also planning a tap water promotion, dubbed the “I’d Tap That” campaign, is designed to promote the use of tap water on campus.
Labko is optimistic about the movement and has already received positive feedback from some students.
“Most students realize the impact we have on our environment, and Rider provides a solid base in terms of sustainability,” Labko said.
According to Cook, the club would also approve if Rider stopped handing out water bottles at events.
“If they used coolers of water and cups we wouldn’t save plastic necessarily, but the fossil fuel that would have been used to transport those bottles would be reduced,” Cook said.
Labko cited other schools, like University of Wisconsin Steven’s Point and Washington University in St. Louis, which have already instituted bans on plastic bottles being sold on campus.
“One by one, each university can make a difference and preserve as much of our environment as possible,” she said. “These universities went through hardships while implementing this plan; however, with the help of students, faculty and vendors, they are looked up to as highly sustainable institutions.”
Cook believes that Rider can be one of the schools that make a difference.
“We may be a small school, but if we could get this water bottle movement going, then maybe we could influence other schools in the area and hopefully throughout New Jersey,” she said. “The impact that this could have on the world is tremendous if the motion to ban water bottles is extrapolated out to a national idea.”