COLUMN: ‘Take Back the Tap’ takes away our autonomy

“Take Back the Tap” is getting slightly closer to vanquishing bottled water from our campus vending machines and convenience stores.

The group’s Facebook page calls bottled water a “waste of money” and points to environmental hazards caused by the production and disposal of plastic water bottles. So, in order to save the planet, TBTT wants everyone to drink tap water.

If the group’s agenda stopped here, I’d offer my wholehearted support. Paying for water is a pretty odd idea when it’s freely available, and I also don’t want my grandchildren to be buried alive by an avalanche of plastic bottles.

But I can’t support TBTT’s mission to unilaterally ban the sale of bottled water on campus.

Like most adults in our capitalist society, I don’t enjoy being told what I can and can’t purchase. Banning the sale of any product presupposes that I’m not responsible enough to comprehend the ramifications of buying it. “Jeremy’s apparently not trustworthy enough to recycle, so we better make sure he can’t buy non-refundable plastic bottles.”

Besides being insulting to my intelligence, a ban of bottled water sales has very little practicality.

If a student enjoys bottled water, a campus-wide ban will not dissuade him or her from purchasing it from off-campus retailers, and I don’t think any organization will have much luck convincing Meijer and Walmart to stop selling bottled water.

The group’s choice of focusing purely on bottled water leaves me mystified. Gatorade is made of mostly purified water and is sold in non-refundable plastic containers, but the group does not address this issue on any of its websites, unless Gatorade is a future crusade.

Also, the group gives beverages in refundable bottles a free pass. The manufacture of Coca-Cola and Pepsi bottles would seem to have the same environmental impact as water bottles, but perhaps the group figures people are more likely to recycle them. This reasoning is hard to justify, though, since Central Michigan University offers conveniently placed recycling receptacles, allowing students to discard non-refundable bottles without hassle.

TBTT is based upon good intentions. However, its current agenda is much too aggressive to win widespread support. Members of the Student Government Association House and Senate might be supportive of TBTT, but students who are uninvolved in campus politics are forced to sit and watch the process unfold.

Instead of being a paternalistic special interest group, I wish TBTT would have enough confidence in its message to respect individual autonomy. If the group pushes through its agenda, it will only succeed in eliminating the environmental impact of non-recycled water bottles sold within the confines of CMU.

The group’s overall message will be lost in the mutterings of students who will walk to 7-Eleven to buy bottled water.


  1. Thank you for writing about your concerns, Jeremy. I would like to point out a few pieces of information though. Our university is not a free market, hence why students also cannot buy cigarettes or alcohol on campus. Also, you are right. If students wish to buy bottled water off campus, they may. But this will make CMU a leader in sustainability and join the other 60+ universities across the nation to install a phase-out/ban; and the first school in MI to do so. The reason that Take Back the Tap just focuses on bottled water in because here in Mt. Pleasant, we have clean, safe, and accessible drinking water (Gatorade or any other flavored drink does not pour out of our tap fountains). To address you other point, SGA has a job and fulfills it to represent all students of campus, not just those involved in politics. And lastly, students don’t have to walk to 7-Eleven and mutter to get water because… we have drinking fountains, access to potable water, all on campus students have been provided with a reusable water bottle, and tap is FREE!

  2. Take Back the Tap is a nationwide initiative, engaging students in campus democracy and community leadership. And in fact, this is not solely based on college campuses. The town of Concord, MA passed a precedent-setting ban on bottled water within its city limits last year. Which means that no store, regardless of how big they are, can sell bottled water in Concord. The idea that capitalist economics should take precedent over community-based democratic action in regard to the sale of products is anti-democratic. We as citizens are perfectly capable of demanding what we want and don’t want sold in our locales.

    Students who are uninvolved in campus politics do so at their own risk. Democratic systems aren’t designed to aid people who take no interest or action in their local politics. If people don’t speak, they will never be heard. It is precisely because energetic, politically-engaged students organized themselves around a common goal that TBTT’s initiative is even possible. This is typically how democracy works, rather than waiting for elected officials to dictate an agenda to us.

    Also, banning bottled water isn’t just of an environmental ethos, it is also a broader political disagreement with the idea of privatized water. Water should be available freely as a right that all people can enjoy, as it is necessary for human life. Tap water is inherently safer, cheaper, and better regulated than bottled water. It also has the benefit of cutting down on waste if it is taken out of the consumer cycle.

    • “Water should be available freely as a right that all people can enjoy, as it is necessary for human life.”
      -Water IS available freely, in the drinking fountain right next to the vending machine that sells bottled water. No one is forcing you to buy it.

      “The idea that capitalist economics should take precedent over community-based democratic action in regard to the sale of products is anti-democratic.”
      -This, I agree with. HOWEVER, you’re making it sound like half the campus has been fighting and fighting to get bottled water removed but the corporations won’t let it happen.

      I’m surprised that over the years, I’ve seen probably 15 TBTT articles, citing politics, this and that, fighting to get bottled water removed from campus. But at the same time, I’ve seen NOBODY write articles about how we are basically the only country in the world that has to pay for health care. NOBODY talking about the B.S. of how student loans are controlled. The list goes on and on. Big picture stuff.

      Getting bottled water removed can be good, but it seems that’s the peak of peoples’ thinking.

      At MIT, they figure out how to, in slow motion, record a beam of light traveling two feet, and the possibilities continue. Others figure out how to grow six acres’ worth of food on 1/4 acre of land using levels.

      Here, all our thinking goes to cutting down the order on a Coca Cola shipment with the stroke of a pencil.

    • I am sure Take Back the Tap would love to hear more from you… tbttcmich@gmail.com

  3. Chloe Gleichman says:

    Let’s flip the conversation about autonomy! Autonomy is defined as freedom from external control or influence. Bottled water companies take away your autonomy by staking a claim on water that previously belonged to no one, and then selling it back to you for a profit! External agents like bottled water companies are controlling the essentials necessary for life just because they see an opportunity for profit. That is taking away personal autonomy.

    When companies are allowed to commodify what is essential to life, they come closer and closer to commodifying life itself. Now THAT is a scary thought, and the ultimate degradation of autonomy.

    • Essentials for human life are what grocery stores are for.

      Are they commodifying life?

      This very message board…every message is first moderated. If it’s not approved, it doesn’t get posted. Which country is this?

      This is a UNIVERSITY, and students’ ideas are filtered by some sophomore on a MAC. That doesn’t seem to bother anyone, but bottled water does. Makes sense.

  4. Removing bottled water from campus also eliminates the choice of filtered water or the “free” chlorine and fluoride enriched city supply. The benefits of adding fluoride to the water can be debated, but bottled water should always be available to those who prefer it. I can’t wait to drink from the fountain after the guy ahead of me just coughed on it, but I can’t complain, it’s free.

  5. Jeremy,
    The point of Take Back the Tap is not to insult anyone’s intelligence, but to actually provide them with more information on the dynamics of how bottled water negatively affects our nation and what we citizens can do in attempts to halt the processes. Instead of portraying TBTT members as selfish by banning the usage of bottled water on campus thus making it inconvenient for students, you should become aware of how the restriction of bottled water sales will actually SAVE people. For example, clean water could be provided to everyone in the world for around $1.7 billion dollars a year beyond the current spending on water projects. This is LESS THAN A QUARTER of the amount of annual spending on water bottles per year. Although TBTT’s ultimate purpose is to eliminate the sale of bottled water on campus, that doesn’t mean they are prohibiting students from drinking water on campus. The idea is not to anger anyone by having to go somewhere farther away for water; it’s to ease into the transition from bottled water to reusable water bottles. Although you provide us readers with your personal characteristic about you being “trustworthy
    enough” to remember to your recycle your plastic water bottle, the fact is that
    80% percent of water bottles end up in landfills. If a student does enjoy
    bottled water enough, then I agree that they will probably not be dissuaded
    from purchasing it from big retailers. However, if it was banned on campus students may take into the consideration of the affordability, convenience, and the lessening of environmental pollution by alternating their choice of water
    consumption from hundreds of plastic water bottles a year to one reusable

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