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Helping others drink reponsibly
March 25, 2011 - 12:30pm

I was speaking to a student who had a recycling complaint. His concern was that he could walk pretty much the length of campus and not see a recycling container for his disposable water bottle.

So I went over some of the reasons that the vast majority of bottle recycling containers are inside:

  • Outdoor containers are more expensive to buy, as they need to be able to survive the weather.
  • Outdoor containers are more expensive to install, as they typically need to be bolted down.
  • Outdoor containers are more expensive to collect from, as they're spread over larger distances than indoor ones.
  • Outdoor containers are often less productive to collect from, except (perhaps) in warm weather (the exception around here).
  • Outdoor containers would often be located only a few steps away (even if separated by a door) from indoor containers which have none of these disadvantages.

But then, of course, I asked the obvious question. While I applauded his enthusiasm about recycling, I wondered why he was carrying a disposable water bottle in the first place. Didn't he have a refillable water bottle? Indeed, hadn't he received one when he first arrived on campus?

His answer was informative. Yes, he has a refillable water bottle. And yes, he frequently carries and uses it. But most of the time he uses it, he's away from campus. On campus and away from his apartment, he doesn't like refilling it. He doen't like refilling it in a public men's room. He doesn't like laying it down (more or less) in a public drinking fountain, trying to get the spout of water to reach up into the mouth of the bottle -- he's seen people put their mouths down quite close to the water outlet, and even spit into the fountain's basin. He keeps his refillable bottle with his gym clothes and refills it at the recreation center, but the rec center is the one facility on campus with gooseneck hydrants -- plumbing fixtures attached to drinking fountains, but specifically designed for filling cups, glasses or water bottles. For reasons of (admittedly minor) cost, none of the other buildings on campus have installed similar hydrants.

So the picture I'm left with is of a campus which is willing to spend a buck or two on each of thousands of incoming students each year, providing each one with a (suitably inscribed) refillable water bottle. But the same campus isn't willing to spend a few hundred bucks (one time only) to make it simple, easy and attractive for those students to refill (which is to say, use) those bottles.

Silly us.


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