RIT eco-friendly initiative reimplements packaged water policy starting April 1

Effort to reduce environmental impact by encouraging tap water use, reusable bottles across campus

Nathan Tangeman

Members of the campus community are encouraged to use reusable water bottles and fill them up for free at hydration stations, which are available in most campus buildings and in all dining halls at no cost.

RIT is reimplementing its policy against the use of packaged water, beginning April 1, when university funds may no longer be used to purchase still, unflavored, or packaged water. The policy applies to all single-serve water regardless of container material, size, event type, and method of purchase.

RIT first implemented this policy in 2012, making significant strides to reduce the university’s environmental impact. It was forced to pause the rule during the pandemic when hydration stations were turned off. During the pandemic, plastic use on campus—and beyond—surged.

The policy has been updated and is being reinstated now that the university has returned to normal business operations.

Single-use, packaged water in any form—whether bottled, boxed, or canned—has a higher environmental, social, and economic cost than tap water, according to Neha Sood, director of sustainability.

“It takes more resources to produce, transport, and recycle packaged water; it also produces more waste in the process—whether it’s the visible waste of the packaging itself, or the invisible waste of carbon emissions and higher water footprint of the package,” she said.

“There has been a dramatic uptick in different types of packaging,” Sood added. “This debate often focuses on what the ‘least bad’ option is from a range of bad options. In reality, the only ‘good’ option from an environmental sustainability perspective—especially on our campus—is filling up a reusable bottle or cup with tap water.”

The sustainability director noted that packaged water often is mistakenly considered to be healthier than tap water. In reality, she said, packaged water can contain higher proportions of harmful chemicals and microplastics.

“Access to clean, healthy, and safe drinking water also is a basic human right,” said Sood. “Packaging and distribution of water can disincentivize investment in public infrastructure, endangering public health and worsening the water crisis around the world. Additionally, beverage companies sometimes package water from drought-ridden places, and may not be as strictly regulated as tap water.”

The RIT community has access to high quality, free drinking water on campus. Packaged water, as compared to tap water, is approximately 200 times more expensive for the same amount of water, has a higher embodied carbon footprint, generates more waste, and contains more micro-plastic pollutants that are harmful to human health.

Hydration stations are available in most campus buildings and in all dining halls for individuals to refill personal water bottles at no cost.

“It is fiscally prudent as well,” Sood said. “It’s difficult to justify spending university funds on packaged water as part of our normal operations, when high-quality tap water is readily available at a much lower cost.”

Western New York is fortunate to have access to clean and abundant drinking water from Lake Ontario as well as two undeveloped Finger Lakes, namely Hemlock and Canadice. The lack of development on Hemlock and Canadice, combined with restrictions on recreation, helps protect the water quality of the lakes. Stringent testing also ensures that the region’s water is safe to drink—safer, perhaps, than packaged water, which is not tested to the same standards, according to Sood.

“It is important that we redouble our efforts to reduce single-use waste as much as we can to help us get back on track to adhering to our sustainability commitment,” she said. “RIT Dining has brought back reusable plates and cutlery at Gracie’s and Brick City Café while continuing to explore other ways to reduce our environmental impact. This is in line with RIT’s larger sustainability efforts and commitments.”

In addition to RIT Dining’s commitment to supporting the university’s overall sustainability efforts, RIT Catering offers alternative beverage options such as fruit-infused water and reusable water stations at catered events in support of this policy, according to Don LaFlam, executive director.

“Bottled water will continue to be available in vending machines and dining venues for individuals to purchase using personal funds, but we encourage everyone to make eco-friendly choices like bringing their own reusable bottles,” LaFlam added.

RIT Dining is working on transitioning to compostable packaging wherever possible to reduce single-use plastic consumption, he noted, and Gracie’s now offers reusable to-go containers. A reusable mug program in which customers are encouraged to bring their own mug and receive 10 cents off any hot or cold beverage purchased at a dining location, also is in place, according to LaFlam.

This policy applies to all departments, governing bodies, student groups, and other campus affiliates that use university funds for beverage purchases. In adherence with this policy, RIT Catering will not offer packaged water as an option for university-funded events. Pitchers of water can instead be used for events. Departments may also consider purchasing reusable pitchers and cups for their office to use, as needed, for meetings. Where appropriate, departments should encourage guests and event attendees to bring their own reusable water bottles.

Exceptions to this policy include:

  • Individuals traveling on behalf of RIT where access to clean drinking water may not be readily available, including employee travel, athletic teams, and other student group travel.
  • Organizers of off-campus events are encouraged to request water pitchers rather than bottled water, but are not required to do so.
  • In locations without kitchenettes or hydration stations, offices may work with WB Mason to rent refillable water coolers.
  • Additional exceptions can be made by contacting sustainability@rit.edu in advance.


While noting that “change is hard,” Sood is hoping the campus community will embrace the important reasons behind the policy’s reinstatement.

“It will mean retraining ourselves and revising the way we operate,” she said. “RIT Sustainability is here to answer questions and help provide assistance to anyone who needs it. But we hope that a little effort upfront will lead us to operationalize this policy and provide lasting benefits for our campus community.”

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