Students seek ban on plastic bottles

So far, 2,500 at TRU have pledged to stop buying drinks in plastic bottles

SYLVIE PAILLARD / Kamloops Daily News
November 15, 2012 01:00 AM

TRU chemistry associate professor Nelaine Mora-Diez places a plastic Coke bottle in the recycling centre at the TRU Campus Activity Centre.

Thompson Rivers University's student union wants a campus wide ban on disposable plastic bottles and they appear to have the support to back their campaign.

The student union's sustainability crew presents its case to the TRU board of governors in December and by then, they hope to have their goal of 4,500 signatures as well as dozens of photos of various faculty, staff and students standing in front their campaign banner.

Emma Payne is among the more than 2,500 so far who have pledged to stop buying drinks in plastic bottles.

"It's an easy change that could make a big difference, especially being that our campus is quite large," said the 21-year-old third year biology student from Prince Rupert.

"I didn't even realize, honestly, that plastic couldn't be recycled the same way aluminum could. So (the campaign) is not only improving the environment, it's informing people too."

But it's unknown how beverage supplier Coca Cola will respond, especially given that the Canadian Beverage Association disputes the more egregious claims against plastic bottles.

In September, the student union expanded a campaign to ban bottled water to include all drinks in disposable plastic, like those found in coin machines and food and beverage outlets all over campus.

"Everyone's still going to be able to buy their beverage of choice, just in more sustainable containers, things like aluminum cans, glass bottles, fountains drinks from dispensers," said Dylan Robinson, a 20-year-old member of the union executive.

TRU sustainability director Dr. Tom Owen said the campaign is a natural extension of a movement that's already in motion on campus.

The university's population has been influenced by the likes of Capt. Charles Moore, an environmentalist dedicated to raising awareness about the degradation of marine environments around the globe.

Moore is most famous for spotting the "Great Garbage Patch" in the Pacific Ocean, a floating pile of discarded plastic items the size of Texas.

He has spoken at TRU twice and last June received an honourary degree at convocation ceremonies that TRU president Alan Shaver had requested be plastic-bottle free.

Those fighting for a plastic-bottle-free campus argue that the commercialization of water puts both sustainability and the well being of people at risk.

"The commercial bottling of water is not only less safe, but also treats water as a commodity, rather than a basic human need and right," states the student union's sustainability literature. "It undermines trust and investment in publicly available water.

"Bottling giants like Coke and Pepsi enjoy exclusivity contracts on campuses like ours, locking our institution into sales quotas and service costs like electricity for vending machines, while our public water fountains are left in disrepair."

Although water bottle bans have taken hold in other campuses and communities across Canada, a ban on all plastic bottles would make TRU unique, said Owen.

"TRU would be a leader if they took that position," he said.

And as trailblazers often discover, there may be snags along the way.

It wouldn't be that difficult to accomplish, logistically speaking, said Owen, but contracts with beverage suppliers would have to be honoured.

And how accommodating those companies would be is still unknown. Robinson said the student union hasn't reached out to suppliers.

Attempts by the Daily News to reach company spokespersons were unsuccessful.

But the Canadian Beverage Association spokesperson said her organization speaks on behalf of "the broad spectrum of brands and companies that manufacture and distribute the majority of non-alcoholic liquid refreshment beverages consumed in Canada."

Stephanie Baxter provided a statement that stands behind bottled water products.

"Bottled water in Canada is produced in environmentally smart and efficient ways through improved production efficiencies and with lighter, more recyclable bottles," it read.

"The CBA and our members would like to encourage students to recognize the important role bottled water can play in helping Canadians' meet their hydration needs and the impracticality of a bottled water ban."

And by all accounts, the recycling program is alive and well at TRU. In a few campus buildings, that recycling is collected by the Kamloops Autism Society and divided with one or two other charitable organizations. Last month, that netted 1,500 plastic bottles worth around $75, according to organizer Deb Dillman.

She wasn't overly concerned about the loss since she anticipates aluminum cans and bottles will replace the plastic. But she's dubious the campaign would work because Powerade and Gatorade drinks are sold only in plastic.

In other buildings, the janitorial staff collects the bottles, said Owen.

According to Robinson, it's impossible to determine exactly how many plastic bottles are discarded across campus because of the individual recycling systems.


Statistics gathered by Encorp Pacific Canada, the company behind the Return-It recycling centres, show a little more than 368 million plastic containers under one litre in size were sold in B.C. in 2011 and just under 270 million recovered for a recovery rate of 87.9 per cent.

The recycling process collects two key plastic resins, PET and HDPE, and sends them to separate facilities to be cleaned and pelletized for sale into the open market.

End uses for these plastics include new containers, strapping materials and fibres. Encorp has signed a multi-year contract with Merlin Plastics to ensure long-term markets for these commodities.

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