Are you choosing water or waste?

Our next blog is by Sarah Dean, a current Bachelor of Nutrition Science student at Deakin University.

As part of her unit “Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems” Sarah completed a blog on what healthy and sustainable actions could be applied to water consumption within educational institutions. Increasing access to tap water is also in line with the Deakin Food Charter. As a high achieving student, she has been invited to share her blog on the Deakin Nutrition blogsite.

Consumers are increasingly choosing bottled water over tap, even in countries that have high quality drinking water, such as Australia. But are there any consequences to the continuation of this trend and is it really a problem for universities?

The environmental and health impacts of bottled water

Yes! The consumption of bottled water is hugely detrimental to the environment and our health. Environmental costs caused by the production of bottled water include the excessive use and waste of water resources and a sole reliance on fossil fuels such as oil to extract, process, package, transport and refrigerate bottled water. Its poorly managed disposal also contributes to further greenhouse gas emission, landfill and the pollution of oceans and waterways. The degradation of our environment has a significant impact on the quality of water available for drinking and in turn our health. While, bottled water and tap water are nutritionally similar, alarmingly most bottled water is not fluoridated. The fluoridation of Australian tap water is strongly associated with several positive health outcomes including improved bone and teeth health and the reduction of dental caries.

What are the benefits associated with switching bottled water for tap water?

As actors within various national and global food systems, universities like Deakin and us, their members, have a responsibility to improve the health and sustainability of these systems not only for ourselves but also for future generations. So what can we as members of the Deakin community do to support change in this area? What benefits can we expect?

Staff and students are strongly encouraged to switch their single use, disposal plastic water bottles for reusable water bottles. This simple behaviour change can have big savings. Bottled water costs consumers over 1000 times that of tap water, meaning the one off cost of buying a reusable water bottle is quickly recovered.

Switching to reusable water bottles also aligns with the waste minimization pillar of a healthy and sustainable food system. The production of one litre of bottled water requires the input of at least three litres of water, while the manufacture of soft drinks incurs further environmental costs, on top of packaging, through the input of raw materials.  Reducing our individual waste contributions ultimately reduces the Deakin community’s contributions as a whole and offers the potential for thousands of liters of water and plastic bottles to be saved from waste.

Exchanging bottled water and other bottled beverages for a reusable water bottle offers the Deakin community a number of health benefits. Water intake is found to displace and lower discretionary and animal based food and drink intake, thereby reducing the risk of overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. The Deakin community will likely find increased tap water access and consumption supports the intake of fruits, vegetables and other plant based materials conferring further positive health outcomes. These outcomes not only benefit the university and its members but also contribute to a healthy and sustainable food system.

Addressing potential barriers to change

However, perceptions regarding the inconvenience of reusable water bottles and concerns about the safety of tap water often prevent behaviour change. Fortunately solutions to these challenges are abundant.

By fitting numerous drink fountains and refill stations across campus grounds and within food courts, cafes and buildings, students and staff will have easy access to tap water and ample opportunities to refill their water bottles on the go. This increase in availability, combined with the sale of reusable bottles across campus, will improve access and offer a solution for those of us with a forgetful memory. To address tap water quality concerns, Deakin and other universities could install filters within drink fountains and refill stations. In addition, reusable bottles with built in filters could be made available for sale across campus.

Given the feasibility and benefits of choosing tap water, this Deakin student will be putting down her bottled water for good and sincerely hopes you will too.


By Sarah Dean, current Bachelor of Nutrition Science student at Deakin University.

About Sarah:  Sarah is in her second year at Deakin, completing a Bachelor of Nutrition Science. As part of her degree, she has been investigating challenges to achieving aspects of a healthy and sustainable diet and potential solutions for overcoming these challenges.

Recently, Sarah has spent time volunteering at Second Bite, an organization that rescues and redistributes food to community food programs around Australia. She has really enjoyed playing a part in helping to reduce food waste and increase access to nutritious food for all people. This experience has been a useful backdrop for her Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems studies and provided a more tangible and authentic element to some topics.

She is looking forward to gaining more knowledge throughout the rest of her degree and hopes to explore further study opportunities in nutrition and dietetics at Deakin in the future.

Category list: Food Policy, Student Blogs

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