Taking a Stand: WashU’s Bottled Water Ban

Washington University became the first North American university to ban the sale of bottled water on its West, North, and Danforth campuses in 2009. Five years after the ban was rolled out, purchasing order history for bottled beverages across these campuses showed bottled water purchases fell by 86%, a savings of over 125,000 bottles of water per year. Additionally, an unanticipated benefit was observed: declines in overall bottle purchases, with a nearly 40% decline in total bottled drink purchases, and a 50% decline in carbonated beverages purchased, resulting in a total reduction of over 567,000 plastic bottles annually.

In the years following the ban, University-led infrastructure and policy changes have helped make the transition to personal refillable water bottles feasible for students, staff, and faculty on campus. Highly effective changes include an ongoing commitment to installing and retrofitting water bottle refill stations, providing free water bottles to incoming students, and the creation of campus partnerships committed to holding low or zero-waste events. The ban has attracted national attention from universities and colleges wanting to follow suit.

Discouraging the use single-use plastics and other food serviceware is one of many strategies for reducing waste and conserving resources.

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Further reading:

Washington University in St. Louis ends sale of bottled water. The Source, WashU Newsroom, February 20, 2009

Water bottle ban a success; bottled beverage sales have plummeted. The Source, WashU Newsroom, April 20, 2016

Stemming the Tide: Taking Action on Campus Against Plastic Pollution, The National Wildlife Federation (includes information on WashU’s bottled water ban).

Green Event Best Practices Showcased at 2018 Commencement.

Commencement Celebration Maintains Sustainability Momentum – WashU launches pilot project: outdoor hydration stations designed for large events (2023).