By Jason McLure
(Reuters) - The University of Vermont is banning the sale of bottled water on campus, part of a growing effort at schools to reduce plastic waste and save students' money by promoting tap water.
A dozen U.S. universities have ended sales of bottled water in the past three years, but UVM is the largest to do so. Other schools include the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, University of Portland and Washington University in St. Louis.
"We saw removing bottled water from campus as a way to influence the amount of waste our institution produces," said Gregory Francese, head of the Vermont Student Environmental Program, on Wednesday. The group led the effort for the ban.
The ban at UVM, which has 11,500 undergraduate students, takes effect in January 2013. It was announced on Tuesday.
"It's pretty interesting how quickly it's caught on campuses," said Niles Barnes, who helps coordinate an anti-bottled water campaign for the Colorado-based Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
"The arguments, not just environmentally but economically, make quite a bit of sense," he said.
In Vermont, the university plans to convert as many as 75 campus water fountains to water-bottle refilling stations, and the student environmental group will sell stainless steel water bottles for $1 to promote drinking tap water.
"We've decided not to sell cigarettes. We've decided not to sell bottled water," said Gioia Thompson, director of the university's office of sustainability. "We're not about revenue generation from those sources."
The International Bottled Water Association has objected to such bans on grounds that they do not necessarily lead to greater consumption of tap water and may instead lead to more drinking of sugary sodas. It also says such bans destroy jobs and recycling rates for bottled water containers are improving.
Chris Hogan, a spokesman for the industry trade group, said plastic water bottles make up just one-third of 1 percent of garbage in the United States.
"We encourage people to recycle and recycle at higher rates," he said. "Comprehensive recycling programs need to be considered. Picking on bottled water is not going to make an overall dent."
The Vermont ban follows expiration of a ten-year exclusive beverage vending contract with Coca-Cola of Northern New England, which sells Dasani bottled water. A spokesman for the bottler did not return a call seeking comment.
Americans spent $10.6 billion on bottled water in 2009, and about 75 percent of plastic water bottles are not recycled, according to Food & Water Watch, an environmental group.
(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Thomasch)