One step forward, two steps back for the environment Bottled water is back from ban at the Union Market and our ecological footprint is in question

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By: Saad Ejaz

Last year, the McMaster Students Union ran a lengthy campaign to promote sustainable practices at McMaster University.

The campaign focused on implementing environmentally friendly solutions such as improving McMaster’s community garden, the benefits of utilizing solar as a form of energy and reducing waste.

During the Winter 2017 term, then MSU president Justin Monaco-Barnes and his team worked with the Union Market to reduce single-use plastic water bottle waste by eliminating the product entirely from the store and replacing it with boxed water packages, which are more sustainable in packaging and transportation.

However, bottled waters are back in full swing at the Union Market after though there was a significant amount of time and resources spent last year to implement the ban of bottled water.

As a large university, our campus has a great impact on the environment. Plastic water bottles are one of the largest contributors to McMaster’s carbon footprint, and by implementing a ban on these products, we were showing our support and care to an important cause.

Now, the Union Market may defend their actions by stating it was costing too much money, or that Boxed Water was too expensive (compared to some water bottle options).

Whatever the defence is, it is likely that it had a financial foundation.

The reality is that, if making sustainable choices were cheap and easy, then this world wouldn’t have much of a problem making the needed transition.

When the decision was made last year, it was followed up by a plan to compensate for a drop in water sales. For example, prices were slightly raised on popular items to recover lost profits while still being priced cheaper than anywhere else on campus. Now that plastic water bottles are back on the shelves, and there is no need for that cost recovery, did the increased prices of those products go down, or did they remain the same, forcing students to pay more for no definitive reason?

It is important to understand that any grass roots product made with materials that are helpful to environment will come with a premium cost attached to it.

This is why it can be so difficult to implement a positive and more sustainable approach in today’s world.

While boxed water is not the best alternative to plastic bottled water on campus, it is only one step towards creating a more environmentally friendly campus.

By selling plastic water bottles, the MSU has not only undone the work that was put into this project, but also undone the work that’s accompanied with this multi-staged project. With the Union Market going back on this effort, what are they doing in lieu of this project to address McMaster’s carbon footprint via plastic water bottles?

Currently, we need to be thinking about the environment more than ever and to see a backwards step is truly both sad and disappointing.

The MSU is in a unique position to make real, tangible change due to the fact that they are a non-profit organization with multiple profit generating business units making up for any financial shortcomings they may run into.

Real change comes from making hard, sometimes uncomfortable decisions in order to serve the greater good of today, while keeping in mind those of tomorrow.

True leadership also means being creative with solutions that best serve society, while being able to rationalize to those who may disagree at the time.

How much devastation do we need to see in the world before we are okay with the idea of making a sacrifice to best serve those who are affected the most? This program was created with a motivation to take a principled stance on a moral issue that needs us to act, now.

To see the program revert back so quickly due to narrow-minded leadership truly reminds me of just how much work there is still to be done on all levels, including from the people at the top who claim to care.

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