By Evan Scollard ’17
Professor of Anthropology
Despite this newspaper’s focus on the matters of Trinity College, we owe due consideration to the issues facing our larger Connecticut home. Just over in Bloomfield, our own professor Jane Nadel-Klein has joined a group of concerned residents to combat the Niagara Water Bottling Company’s plan to move into the region.
The corporation’s decision to build a plant follows the town council’s unanimous vote in December to offer nearly 5 million dollars worth of tax-breaks. In addition, the Metropolitan District Commision – which manages water for Hartford, Bloomfield, and six other towns – has given Niagra a substantial discount on sewer and water usage from the region’s reservoirs. In its full operation, the company will be drawing 1.8 million gallons of the region’s water every day for years to come. They will take an unspecified amount of groundwater. Understandably, hundreds of protesters from the region have come out to oppose the decision. There is even now a bill moving through the Connecticut state legislature to put the brakes on this worrying development. If you are a Connecticut resident, you should consider contacting your representative.
Concerns surround both the sustainability and the fairness of the bottling initiative. While the average citizen obeys the usual mandate to conserve wherever possible, Niagara would enjoy major tax breaks for using the most. Even in times of drought, the Metropolitan District Commision can only halt Niagara’s intake when the water reserves fall to 10% of their original volume. MDC officials have reassured residents that this won’t mortally threaten water supplies, but they rely upon outmoded data that takes no account of climate change. So how will we know when they are taking too much? We don’t have to rely solely on theoretical projections, though. In 2009, Niagara established a similar plant in a Groveland, Florida. When residents protested the massive water-loss, the company beat them down in court despite their supposed commitment to the communities in which they work.
Some supporters base their argument on entirely economic grounds, claiming that the project will bring 75-125 new jobs to the town. But even by Niagara’s own estimate, they’ll only employ 38-75 people at minimum wage. Though the area needs even minimum wage jobs to satisfy demand, we need to consider whether or not they are worth the threat to an essential State resource. At the very least, we need to acknowledge the environmental destructiveness of any corporation that produces over 14 million plastic bottles a day at just a single plant. Only a small proportion of water bottles ever get recycled, while the rest pack our landfills and choke out our sea life.
So this is where we involve ourselves as students. For all those too busy to volunteer in Bloomfield’s citizens’ lobbying efforts against Niagara, we at least owe the greater environmental movement our support for a campus-wide ban on the sale of plastic water bottles. Knowing the clear ecological hazard, how can we justify the wasteful practice at a school committed to community values? No educated student could reasonably deny plastic’s endangering effects on the hundreds of thousands of birds and sea-animals it kills every year, or the unsustainable nature of a material that takes 500-1000 years to break down.
We need to follow Wesleyan, Brown and Harvard’s move to rid their campuses of these disposable water bottles – or otherwise risk falling behind the progress of our peer institutions. As our rankings drop, we cannot consider ourselves on the same plane as these schools while simultaneously refusing their forward-thinking. So why not put the pressure on Chartwells now to rid their refrigerators of plastics? Besides sheer laziness, we have no basis to resist this national campaign. Logistically, the move wouldn’t cost much money or effort. All we’d really need is a quick influx of reusable bottles and a few new water bubblers – maybe some more fruit-infusions like Mather offers. The school could easily shift entirely to paper cups (a lesser evil) and soda fountains.
If a small group of local citizens can go singlehandedly up against the corporate influence in all this, then 2,000 undergraduates should at least be able to end
By Evan Scollard ’17