CHICAGO — Loyola University Chicago began encouraging students to drink tap water by giving all freshmen reusable bottles last fall and installing more refill stations around campus during the past year.
Now the school plans to ban the sale of bottled water altogether.
Starting this fall, the university will stop selling bottled water in its cafeterias and retail stores. In 2013, bottled water will be removed from campus vending machines.
Campus leaders said Loyola is the first Illinois college or university to eliminate the sale of bottled water, although student activists throughout the country have rallied behind the issue this past school year, citing environmental concerns about the use of plastic bottles and awareness about ensuring fair access to drinking water globally.
Some institutions, mostly smaller schools, have responded with full or partial bans. Other large institutions making the move include the University of Vermont, which will ban bottled water sales starting next year, and Harvard University's School of Public Health, which removed bottled water from its cafeteria earlier this year.
At Loyola's two campuses in Rogers Park and downtown Chicago, about 8,500 bottles of water a month are sold in the dining halls. Many more bottles are bought through vending machines.
"We wanted to be one of the universities taking a stance on this issue of bottled water on campus," said Robert Kelly, Loyola's vice president for student development. "We have pictures with Lake Michigan behind the campus. We have one of the largest sources of fresh water in the area, in the world, and it seemed odd to keep doing the bottled water thing."
The university will allow sales of bottled juice, soda and specialty waters. Energy drinks already are banned.
Some students have expressed concern about the university reducing their buying choices, Kelly said.
The Loyola ban comes after a yearlong educational campaign called "UnCap Loyola," which focused on the environmental and social-justice implications of bottling and selling community water. Students passed a referendum proposal in March saying they support the removal of bottled water, and university administrators announced the ban last week.
Alexandra Vecchio, 20, a Loyola senior and incoming president of the Student Environmental Alliance, said she was convinced by the social-justice arguments.
"Access to clean and safe water is a human right," Vecchio said. "When a corporation comes in and bottles that water and that water becomes privatized and is sold back to the people, then they lose access to the water. ... What happens to the people who can't afford it?"