Push on to expand state’s bottle bill

Fitchburg State University students and faculty are hoping to clean up the city and the state and encourage recycling by advocating for the proposed expansion of the state bottle bill to include non-carbonated beverages.

Students involved with the FSU chapter of the Massachusetts Public Interest Group, or MASSPIRG, held a press conference Wednesday morning as part of a MASSPIRG statewide day of action to urge legislators to approve the expanded bottle-deposit law for a ballot question this November.

“The updated version that we’re pushing for expands that coverage to include water bottles, sports drinks and juice containers,” said Chapter Chairman Ted Foster, 29, of Lunenburg.

He said current studies show the five-cent initiative to recycle “works very well,” with about 70 percent of bottles covered by the deposit law getting recycled.

Last year, Foster said, more than 130,000 petition signatures in favor of the expanded bottle bill were collected across the state, 30,000 of them collected by MASSPIRG volunteers, and more than 1,000 of them coming from FSU. This semester alone, the FSU chapter has collected more than 270 photo petitions of FSU students showing their support for the updated bill, he said.

“The bottle bill is not just about recycling,” Foster said. “Everyone understands the importance of recycling, but it’s about being an engaged citizen, and taking democracy into our own hands.”

Biology Professor Chris Picone said the next step is to get people to question bottled water itself. He said the three fundamental reasons why people should object to bottled water are issues of sustainability, health and social justice.

With plentiful access to fresh, clean tap water, Picone said it doesn’t make any sense to use fossil fuels — and increase carbon emissions, leading to climate change — to ship water from hundreds of miles away or further when it’s already readily available.

While a great deal of people assume bottled water is safer than tap water, he said, tap water is actually more heavily regulated than bottled water, and regularly tested.

“It’s false to assume tap water is dirty and bottled water is safe,” Picone said. “It’s actually more likely the opposite.”

When water sits in plastic bottles for months or years, certain types of plastic can leach endocrine disrupting chemicals into the water, he said, a process that is sped up when bottles are exposed to sunlight. Certain types of bottles, especially plastic recycle code no. 1, can leach more if reused, Picone said.

If those who can afford bottled water just drink bottled water, then they are less likely to worry about the community water supply, he said, and less likely to support taxation that ensures that supply stays clean and safe.

“It’s kind of like the gated community,” Picone said. “You don’t worry about crime if you live in a gated community, because you’re isolated from all of that stuff. And in the same way when people are buying bottled water, they tend to not worry about the contamination of public water supplies, which a lot of poor people have to rely upon.”

Quoting numbers obtained by FSU Environmental Health and Safety Officer Leah Fernandes, Picone said FSU students spend $25,000 on bottled water annually on campus, and the university spends another $6,000 each year on 5-gallon water dispensers.

Of the 14,000 bottles of water sold on campus each year, “many of them might get into the recycle bins, but we know a lot of them don’t,” Picone said.

And for those that do get recycled, the plastic can’t be recycled indefinitely — it can only go through two to three rounds before it degrades too much to be used again, he said, and further carbon emissions are created from melting the plastic down.

Picone’s solution is to remove the bottles from the waste stream entirely, by installing drinking fountains with filter dispensers to cool and clean the water, and are much easier to fill reusable water bottles with than current drinking fountains. Two of these, he said, are already in the Recreation Center.

If FSU were to replace all 75 water fountains on campus, it would be a one-time cost of $85,000 that would pay for itself in three years, he said. 

“I feel like if Fitchburg State were to take the initiative to change over to the greener water supply, then other progressive schools in the area would do the same,” said MASSPIRG volunteer Ali Griffin, 21, of Worcester.

Foster also announced that MASSPIRG would be involved in a community-wide cleanup to be held by the city on Saturday, April 26.

For more information, visit facebook.com/falconpirg.

Picone said the film “Tapped,” a documentary about the longterm social, economic and ecological effects of bottled water, will be screened on campus at 3:30 p.m. on April 23 in Percival Auditorium.