First post-secondary school in Alberta to get rid of plastic bottles

thumb SBigler Water1St. Mary’s University College has become the first post-secondary institution in Alberta to eliminate bottled water sales from the entire campus.

Two years after students, staff and faculty came together suggesting a social justice theme, St. Mary’s social justice committee kicked off their 2011-2012 year yesterday, highlighting their topic of water.

Free aluminum water bottles were handed out to students before witnessing the unveiling of a new water fountain Thursday. This is now the sixth fountain on campus.

“I was really pleased to see the excitement around the fountain,” said Nancy Quan, director of campus ministry and chair of the social justice committee at St. Mary’s.

“Everyone was so excited to see how it worked and to see how many water bottles are being kept out of the landfill.”

With water in short supply in many areas of the world, the social justice committee feels it’s unethical to consume it in plastic bottles in Calgary where excellent water is abundant.

“Water is not just a symbolic thing, it is a critical thing,” said Gerry Turcotte, president of the school.

In 2010, the United Nations came out with a declaration saying, “The right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right.” This declaration recognized almost 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean portable water.

“Calgary is very fortunate: we have a wonderful water system,” said Quan. “We want to access that and we want to take advantage of the water that we have.”

St. Mary's

Megan Appleford, a St. Mary’s University College student, takes the first drink from the new water fountain after her post-secondary institution was announced to be bottled water-free.

Photo: Sibyl Bigler/Calgary JournalAcknowledging how precious water is and how readily available it is to Calgarians touched a chord at St. Mary’s. Many faculty members and students wished to echo the thoughts of the UN.

“We wanted to offer our students the opportunity to make a difference and to be leaders in environmental concerns; that is why we decided to go bottled water free,” said Quan.

One of the school’s visions for their student leaders is to meet the future with a passion for social justice and the common good. One of St. Mary’s students, Megan Appleford, follows these visions.

“We believe the world can be a better place,” she said. “If one person can make a difference, then more people will want to join in, and it ends up creating a chain of awareness and transformation.”

“We take this seriously. We know it is a small step, but it’s an important one. We don’t want to tell other schools what to do, but it is about acknowledging those resources,” added Turcotte.

Other universities and colleges around Calgary have already recognized that environmental changes must occur, and are in the process of making that happen.

The Mount Royal University Students’ Association has plans to install a water bottle fill station, but the realization of establishing more stations as a whole on campus is unknown.

“Costs, labour and info structure are still being looked into; it’s on the radar but it hasn’t been picked up to advocate on,” said Kaylene McTavish, vice president of student life and co-chair of the sustainability committee at MRU.

Within the next month, SAIT Polytechnic is receiving two water filter machines within the students’ association and athletics department. They will test to see how much attention they draw from consumers and go from there.

“I think they are great,” said Caroline Mackenzie, vice president of student life for the SAIT Students’ Association. “The machine even shows you how many bottles you’re saving from going into the landfill when filling up your water bottle.”

St. Mary’s hopes their sustainability efforts are noticed and built upon by all Calgarians and beyond.

“Change is not generated by one person or one committee,” stated Quan. “It is really something that everyone has to take on.”

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