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Banning the Bottle: the Effects of the “UnCap Loyola” Campaign

Photo By: Alan Levine/Creative Commons

If you want a bottle of water on Loyola University Chicago’s campus, you will either have to provide your own reusable bottle to fill at a water fountain or refill station, or resort to purchasing a less healthy option such as soda or juice.

After a two-year educational campaign called UnCap Loyola, sponsored by the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA) and the Unified Student Government Association (USGA), 56 percent of Loyola students won the vote to end the sale of bottled water on campus.

The referendum has been in effect for a year now, and although it has been beneficial for reducing the privatization of water, many students were not in support of the ban and are unhappy with its consequences.

The first Chicago university to ban the sale of bottled water on campus, Loyola has now joined over 90 colleges and universities across the United States that have eliminated bottled water sales on campus or are planning to do so. However, while many of these schools are working to combat the environmental impact of plastic waste, Loyola’s campaign focuses more on social justice issues concerning the privatization of water.

Juice, milk, and soda are still sold on campus, despite being in plastic bottles, but some students still feel inconvenienced by the fact that they are unable to purchase water from campus stores, vending machines or dining establishments, such as Southside Market or the Damen Student Center Food Court.

SEA members argue that bottled water on the Loyola campus was not consistent with Loyola’s Jesuit mission “to be in service of humanity through service, justice, and faith.” But the campaign doesn’t end after the vote.

Passing the ban is only one step of many in creating a sustainable campus and for the UnCap campaign. SEA plans to continue expanding its cause and to educating the student body about the campaign, particularly incoming and transfer students.

Reusable water bottles were to be distributed to students and water refill stations were installed in buildings at both the Lake Shore and Water Tower Campuses. Future residence halls and new buildings will also have the water refill stations installed.

After SEA members spoke to students at Seattle University, who banned bottled water on their campus in September 2010, they decided this was an issue they also wanted to pursue and the campaign officially began. The SEA reached out to Seattle University primarily because they were another Jesuit university and organization members believe the goals of the Seattle water campaign were similar to the Loyola campaign.

The organization members started hosting educational events (which included documentary showings and contests known as “tap water challenges”), and circulated a student petition around campus. The tap water challenges were played as games and served as “educational vehicles” to educate and inform the student population about tap water.


What the Campaign was Really About

What students do not realize is that other schools have banned the bottle because they wish to combat the environmental impact of plastic waste and become more sustainable. Loyola’s campaign actually dealt more with social justice issues concerning the contents inside of the bottle, rather than the outside.


Loyola senior Alexandra Vecchio was one of the campaign’s prominent leaders. She is currently the Chief Sustainability Officer for USGA. However, her main work with UnCap was done as a member of the Student Environment Alliance.


“We never called this initiative the ‘water bottle ban’ because that’s not what we felt like we were doing,” she said. “We felt that saying the word ‘ban’ implied that anyone seen with bottled water on campus would be forced to get rid of it or something extreme like that.”


SEA members argued that selling bottled water on the Loyola campus was not consistent with Loyola’s Jesuit mission “to be in service of humanity through service, justice, and faith.” “Water is a basic human right,” she said. “Because of that, the university shouldn’t be supporting the privatization of this natural resource.”  This is the main reason why juices, milk, and sodas are still sold on campus, despite being in plastic bottles.


According to foodandwaterwatch.org, water privatization is the process of corporations or organizations “seizing control” of public water resources and prioritizing profits over community needs. The web site also says water rates increase at about three times the rate of inflation after privatization. These water rates carry an average increase of 18 percent each year.


The main debates against water privatization is how privatization can worsen the city’s water and sewage services, as well as allow water systems to deteriorate over time. Privatization contracts are also very expensive and difficult to implement.


Water is a natural resource, particularly in Chicago because of Lake Michigan. The SEA members believe it goes against Jesuit social justice values to sell something that should be free and available to all people.


“Loyola’s commitment to not purchase bottled water supports the practice that communities should have access to water,” Vecchio said.



The Students’ Reactions

About a year ago, in March 2012, it was never clear how the majority of Loyola students felt about not being able to buy water on campus.


“I never actually had an opinion,” said senior math major Mark Lamb. “I understand where they [the campaign leaders] were coming from, but the other times, I was annoyed at the thought of carrying a heavy water bottle around.”


Kevin Bautista, a sophomore environmental studies major personally agreed with the campaign but had heard many negative things about it in the months leading up to the vote. “Many students were like, ‘What if I forget my reusable bottle at home and need to drink water? I have to walk really far to get bottled water!’ Others would say, ‘If I still wanted to buy bottled water, where would I get it?’ ”


“Sure, the ban probably had its inconveniences but these can be solved by simple lifestyle changes,” he said.


Junior Erika Vigen was outspoken about her take on the referendum. She did not agree with the UnCap campaign then, and she still doesn’t agree now.


“I feel that if students want to buy water, they should be able to,” she said. “Those who are against bottled water should just simply not buy bottled water. It limits the options students have on campus.”


“I honestly don’t think many realized how inconvenient it would be,” Vigen continued. A lot of students who I know voted for it now wish that they hadn’t. I don’t think the student body was getting the correct information about the ban either.



Setting an Example For Sustainability

As the first Chicago area university to ban the sale the of bottled water on campus, Loyola garnered media attention from local news outlets such as the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Red Eye Chicago, and the Huffington Post.


Other schools and universities across the country including Fordham University in New York City and Baylor University in Waco, Texas reached out to Vecchio for advice in initiating its own UnCap campaign, so much so that she created a generalized outline for a school to go about launching their own campaign.


A year later, the UnCap initiative is still going. Although the referendum passed, there is no viable conclusion to prove its success.


Students opposed to the ban have no choice but to participate in it. “Unless I’m supposed to spend my own money on cases of bottled water, I think I’ll just use the water refill stations,” said junior marketing major Shaina Nonato. “I thought the ban was really dumb but there’s nothing we can do it about it now.”


Even those who believe that the campaign actually worked say Loyola is far from being a sustainable campus. “I think the ultimate reason this campaign was successful was the participation of students and staff members to make these green initiatives work,” Bautista said. “But there are many other factors that contribute to making a sustainable campus though.”


Vecchio believes Loyola’s campus has become more sustainable as a result of banning water bottles on campus.


“When you think of the definition of sustainability, which includes the three aspects: social, environmental, and economic, the UnCap campaign fits well within these areas,” explained Vecchio.


“Personally, I really do see this as an unbelievably positive step for the Loyola campus,” Vecchio said. “Whether people agree with the campaign or not, this has given Loyola the opportunity to stand out as a university committed to environmental sustainability and Jesuit values.”


Outgoing USGA president Julia Poirier said the main problem with the ban today is that students are still misinformed about its basic facts.


“The misinformation out there discourages students,” she said. “I personally believe that a good dialogue with these students increases the likelihood of them eventually supporting the decision.”


Ultimately, passing the water bottle sale referendum was only the first step in creating a more sustainable campus environment and for the UnCap campaign itself. SEA plans to continue to educate the student body about the campaign, particularly for incoming and transfer students.


By Kim De Guzman

  • written by kdeguzman on May 5th, 2013
  • posted in News Editing

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