Thirteen students chanted the phrase “plastic is evil” in Western Washington University's Red Square to promote the upcoming ban on bottled water sales on campus, which will start in April.
Fairhaven’s Right to Water class and the Students for Sustainable Water club worked together on the demonstration, which took place Monday, March 3, to inform students about the ban.
On Tuesday, April 1, Western will become the largest public university in the nation to prohibit the sale of bottled water.
In spring 2012, students voted to end the sale of disposable plastic water bottles on campus with 73 percent in favor of the ban, according to an Associated Students letter to the administration.
Students congregated in Red Square from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. to talk about the ban and promote Blue Gold, a documentary about the future of water. The documentary will be screened from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, in Communications Facility Room 120.
Shirley Osterhaus teaches the Right to Water class at Fairhaven College — a class about the global water crisis and the privatization of water.
“The focus of the class is on water as a human right rather than as a commodity,” Osterhaus said. “Bottled water is a necessity for people at certain times in cases of emergencies, but it has become a commodity and a big profit-making business.”
Fairhaven student Ela Tierney hopes students realize the privatization of bottled water is outweighed by environmental costs.
Bottled water companies treat water as a item that can be sold, but every living thing needs it to survive, Tierney said.
“You can’t just say you have to pay for [water], that's like telling people you have to pay for air,” Tierney said. “You can’t breathe unless you pay for it.”
Tap water has the stigma for being lower quality, but it’s exactly the same as bottled water and free, Tierney said.
“In Bolivia, there are huge water-related problems because the water is privatized and then sold back to its citizens who can’t afford it,” Tierney said.
On July 28, 2010, the United Nations recognized the human right to water and sanitation through Resolution 64/292.
Water sources are mined for bottled water, depleting regional water supply used for agricultural and human needs, Osterhaus said.
The Right To Water class delves into where water comes from, water’s importance, global factors at play and the destruction of water sources.
“[The club is] spreading the word about the harm water privatization causes across the globe,” Western senior and Students for Sustainable Water Vice President Francine St. Laurent said.
The Students for Sustainable Water club originated from the Right to Water class three years ago with the goal of banning bottled water.
Two years ago the ban appeared on the student ballot, and this year the club worked to make the change happen, St. Laurent said.
“Now [the club is] looking at what local water issues we can help with,” she said.
Fairhaven junior Kaitlynn Lagman and Western freshman Katelyn Magel are two of the students in Osterhaus’s the Right to Water class who stood for hours in the rain, chanting and holding posters advertising the upcoming ban and documentary.
Blue Gold focuses on Maude Barlow and her struggle to end the bottled water industry, Lagman said.
“The movie is going to be a really good opportunity to learn more about water privatization and how it’s really affecting the world today,” Magel said. “Western is doing a really good thing in making a stand against bottled water, and I think in that way we are a role model for others.”
University Communications will give an official statement in upcoming weeks. Western spent months communicating with Walton Beverages to discuss the contract, said Robby Eckroth, Associated Students vice president for student life.
“The university is a very slow-moving body because they want to make sure they’re making the right decisions,” Eckroth said.
The Right to Water class is among the nine classes Fairhaven is offering this winter quarter on environmental justice and climate change.
The classes meet weekly to discuss issues with experts during the Fairhaven World Issues Forum.
The World Issues Forum brings a speaker to campus every Wednesday at noon. Winona LaDuke will speak on “The Next Energy Economy: Moving Forward with Grassroots Strategies to Mitigate Global Climate Change” from 12:00 to 1:20 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5, in the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room.