Sustainability in action: Adding water bottle spigots

Chris Toomey/The Watchdog
Chris Toomey/The Watchdog

Starting just last week, the Office of Sustainability at Bellevue College got the funds they needed from the Student Environmental Sustainability Fund Committee to install “Water Bottle Fill Station Retrofits” around campus. Proposed in November by Mackenzie Williamson, Associated Student Government Environmental and Social Responsibility Representative, there are now eight of these spigots installed at locations around campus that have the most foot traffic: C-106, C-212, N-253, L-104, G-04 and S-1 (and in D-126T soon to be installed).

The sustainability department at BC and their theme is “learn, engage, and transform.” Their goal at BC is to educate students to live sustainably and conservatively. To better educate students, the sustainability department has also made it a goal to transform the campus into a more sustainable campus. In 2011, the sustainability department underwent a comprehensive audit of all the campus buildings to better understand how much energy and water was being consumed, and how the department could reduce those numbers.

Between 2011 and 2012, the main campus water consumption of water alone was at approximately 17,000 consumed cubic feet. The department proposed for the 2012-2013 year a projected estimate of approximately 12,500 ccf. These new water bottle fill station retrofits are one of the first solutions being implemented into water consumption reduction of the BC campus.

SESF approved the proposal of $5,800 for the “Water Bottle Fill Station Retrofits” project. All the money went into everything relating to the water bottle filling spigots. This included payment of the eight spigots (at roughly $300-400 each) as well as installation, repairs and modifications towards the old drinking fountains, and compensation for those who installed them.

What was originally planned as a pilot test to have one spigot upstairs and one downstairs of the C building, Williamson came in last November and proposed her idea of an easier way for students to fill their reusable water bottles. “I pushed it through as an actual funding request,” Williamson said, “The people who were on the voting committee were Deric Gruen, the sustainability department manager, Michael Hansen, one of the Bite Me instructors, Alex Clark, who was one of the students on the committee, and a couple other faculty that were on it also.” With how the water fountains are positioned now, it’s difficult for students and faculty to fill their bottles. The spigots not only provide an easy and efficient way to fill the bottles, it promotes the usage of reusable water bottles. This enables a reduction in disposable ones that “contain toxins, are costly to dispose of, create a huge amount of waste and are costly.” It is a way to sake all kinds of assets “for our community, our world, and our pockets” as stated on the sustainability website.

There are many companies found online that manufacture efficient water bottle filling devices both big and small for the promotion of reusable water bottles. “I researched all the different models and I decided I wanted the Elkay models because they had a little counter,” Williamson said, explaining that seeing hard numbers was very important for the sustainability team. “The ones we actually got were less expensive so we were able to get them around a lot of places on campus. Our hopes are that if these work out, the goal is to expand them to all the drinking fountains across campus.”

There are plenty of social issues that come up in discussions about plastic water bottles. “I was really annoyed that we didn’t have a way to fill up a water bottle and if someone was going to make that decision. I took Michael Meyer’s Bite Me class and watched a movie called “Flow.” It was about plastic water bottles and the whole industry is actually really bad,” Williamson said and went on to explain how the plastic water bottle industry has been causing more than just pollution in the physical world. It’s become a social pollutant and “I wanted to make it so there wouldn’t be an excuse not to use a reusable water bottle.”

Once installed, members of the sustainability department saw the effects almost immediately. “I think a lot of people are starting to notice them and are asking where they can fill up their water bottle,” said Williamson, “I’m hoping there’s going to be a step so that I can pass it along to the next Environmental Representative for ASG and they can get a full campaign [against plastic water bottles].”