Campus water stations save plastic bottles

By Matthew Brown
Opinions Editor/Copy Editor

Twelve water filling stations around Brookhaven College have helped students, staff and faculty keep over 233,000 single-use plastic water bottles out of landfills since the first station was installed.

Almost a million plastic beverage bottles were sold every minute around the world in 2015, according to National Geographic. And each American on average purchases 346 bottles a year.

The water bottle filling stations around Brookhaven are a small part of the solution to the crisis of plastic pollution. They are gray niches that sit quietly atop the college’s drinking fountains, waiting to automatically fill bottles placed inside them with fresh, cold, filtered water.

Each filling station has a digital counter that ticks upward for every 20 ounces of water dispensed – the volume of a typical single-use plastic water bottle, according to Halsey Taylor, their manufacturer.

The first station was the one by the first-floor restrooms in S Building, Jack Nation, Brookhaven facilities supervisor, said. This fountain has recorded the most bottles saved – over 91,000, or almost half the campuswide total. After getting positive feedback about the fountains, facilities has tried to install two stations every year, Nation said. The 12 stations spread across half of Brookhaven’s 18 buildings.

“I would like to see them on every water fountain,” Carrie Schweitzer, director of sustainability, said, “I hope that would further promote bringing and using your own refillable drinking receptacle. That’s what I would like to see everybody have.”

The stations require no maintenance beyond replacing the filters when they become saturated, which usually happens about once a year, Nation said. They are also easy to install, he said. The facilities crew can easily retrofit filling stations onto many of the water fountains on campus that do not have them using a kit that costs less than half of what a new pair of water fountains with a filler attached would cost.

Nation said he hoped they could install a filling station in every building by next year, but they are limited by their budget. Not all of the water fountains on campus can be retrofitted.

In X Building, none of the 16 water fountains can be retrofitted, Nation said. The fountains’ chillers are embedded in the ceiling, making them more difficult to replace. “We haven’t decided how to attack [that],” Garry Hodges, Brookhaven facilities director, said.

“Students have the power to insist on change,” Schweitzer said. She said students who want to make the campus more sustainable could ask the campus Subway to use paper bags and straws and evaluate whether aluminum cans would be a more sustainable alternative to plastic bottles in the college vending machines.

“There’s so much about pollution and environmental destruction that we don’t really have a whole lot of control over,” Schweitzer said. “So why don’t we take advantage and really make the small differences that we can? I feel like that will make us feel like we are doing something. It will feel empowering.”