Water returns to campus markets, vending machines

Eight years after a student initiative that banned bottled water from being sold on Western's campus, the university, in conjunction with Associated Students leadership, has reintroduced packaged water - now sold in recyclable twist-top aluminum cans - to campus retail operations.

At the time, Western was the largest college or university, public or private, in the state of Washington to end the sale of bottled water on its campus, a practice that the student groups that advocated for bottled water removal felt was unsustainable; 73 percent of the students who voted on the initiative voted to remove the water from campus in 2014.

The movement back towards some form of packaged water on campus began last fall when student conversations made their way up to the Associated Students Executive Board, and discussions began with the staff at University Residences on how best to reintroduce the sales of water to campus as a pilot program.

"The AS leadership have been wonderful partners on how we addressed this issue strategically," said Leonard Jones, director of University Residences at Western. "It's important to note that this doesn't overturn the ban on bottled water passed in 2014, and that was very important to them. And between the pandemic and heightened concerns around community spaces such as water fountains, we wanted to see if this wasn't something we could work on with the AS towards a shared goal."

Laura Wagner, the AS vice president for Sustainability, said this pilot project to reintroduce water to campus was an important way to gather data about the demand for the product by students.

"Ultimately, the hope of the Exec Board with this agreement is for various WWU stakeholders to finally have some form of data about whether this should, and can be, a large scale and long-term investment. We also hope students will provide feedback," Wagner said.

Wagner added that the use of campus water fountains and water-bottle refill stations remains a sustainable option for all campus members, and that the data on testing for lead levels in all these fountains and refill stations is available via WWU's Office of Environmental Health and Safety, here.

For more information about the new packaged water pilot project, contact University Residences at housing@wwu.edu.