Laura Beach believes it's time to wean Concordia University off the bottle.
A third-year student in anthropology and geography, Beach wants Concordia to become the eighth university in Canada, and the first in Quebec, to pull the plug on plastic water bottles.
She's a woman with a mission, and strong opinions.
"Bottled water is causing cancer, polluting the environment, making communities suffer and privatizing a fundamental human and ecological right," Beach explained in a recent letter urging Concordia University president Judith Woodsworth to get on board the bottle-free bandwagon.
"Bottled water is one of the most energy intensive, water intensive, waste producing products on the market. In the majority of circumstances, it is completely unnecessary.
"No matter how you look at it, it's wrong, and the university needs to stop supporting the sale of bottled water."
Beach had just started her first semester at Concordia three years ago when she cofounded TAPthirst, a campus organization dedicated to promoting awareness of the issues of water privatization and finding more sustainable, environmentally friendly and inexpensive ways for the university to provide drinking water on campus.
"I felt that if students became more informed about bottled water, they would be able to make an ethical decision about water consumption," she said.
Beach cites Concordia's waste-management audit for 2009, which estimated more than 2 million plastic water bottles were disposed of in the 2008-09 school year. Just 10 per cent of those empties were recycled. According to the audit, recycling all of them would have cost the university $16,000.
TAPthirst has since persuaded several Concordia clubs and associations to declare themselves "bottled-water-free zones." At this point, Beach acknowledges the designation is purely symbolic.
"Nobody is going to be stopped from going into a meeting or class because they've got a plastic water bottle. It's just a way of saying: 'This is something we believe in.' "
This fall, Beach will be lobbying faculties and launching a petition and public information campaign urging the university to take plastic water bottles when its current beverage contract with Pepsico expires in December.
Roughly 700 students and more than 30 professors, including the chairs, deans, directors and principals of 18 university programs, have signed the petition.
PepsiCo has exclusive rights to provide beverages in vending machines on the university's two campuses under a 13-year-old deal. Details of the arrangement are confidential.
Concordia officials said yesterday the university is "nowhere near" making a decision on what to do when the current contract runs out.
In the meantime, Michael Di Grappa, the university vice-president (services), has invited Beach and members of Concordia's environmental advisory committee to visit PepsiCo to see what it has to offer and if it can address some of their environmental and health concerns.
Beach, an intern with the Concordia Food Systems Project, contends the university should use this period to think about whether it wants to sign another exclusive contract or whether it is prepared to consider small local suppliers, healthful options and beverages in reusable glass bottles.
After all, the university's own environmental policy says that "wherever feasible," Concordia will attempt to purchase goods that are "ecologically benign ... energy efficient, locally produced ... recyclable, non-toxic and/or organic."
Beach also hopes the Sustainable Concordia group will see what can be done to upgrade existing water infrastructures -like putting gooseneck fittings on water fountains, making it easier to refill stainless steel containers.
"As the market for healthier, more sustainable alternatives continues to grow, will Concordia University be ahead of the pack in supplying students with choices more suitable to a sustainable lifestyle?" she asked.
"Or will we continue to have Pepsi products and Pepsi products alone in our vending machines?"