The Journey to Banning Bottled Water at SFU

April 22, 2020
Ban the Bottle members, PWRC Executive Director Zafar Adeel and panelists at World Water Day 2019 event

Written by Teghan Acres

Ban the Bottle (BTB) is a student club at SFU that works to build sustainability and protect water security at the university. A group of graduate and undergraduate students came together at our World Water Day 2018 event with the idea to ban the sale of bottled water at SFU campuses. What started as a hopeful idea is now on its way to becoming a reality.

Almost 1 million plastic water bottles are purchased every minute. This product can be essential in communities that do not have secure access to clean water or are facing emergencies such as hurricanes and floods that compromise their regular water source. Unfortunately, the unrestrained and often unnecessary use of bottled water has harmful environmental and social impacts. While this industry is relatively new in North America, these single-use items are polluting oceans and waterways at a mind boggling rate. Not only that, but communities are facing water shortages and inequitable water access due to water bottling operations.

At a global scale, the extraction, refinement, and manufacture of plastic bottles threaten the health of workers in the plastics industry and neighbouring communities. Through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact, chemicals and toxins in plastics can cause cancer and reproductive, developmental, and neuro-toxicity. Bottled water sold on campus is made from Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET contains chemicals that may leach into the bottles, with potential impacts to consumers’ health, especially when ingested at high rates. This intake of contaminants is entirely avoidable if tap water on SFU campuses is consumed instead. SFU Facilities Services conduct weekly and monthly tests to determine that tap water on campus is good quality and meets all regional and national water-quality guidelines.

A Ban the Bottle branded reusable water bottle. These are distributed to the SFU community at BTB events. Credit: Ryan De Jong

The water pricing policy in British Columbia is currently governed by the Water Sustainability Act (WSA). The Water Sustainability Act implemented a price for groundwater extraction at CAD$2.25 per million litres of water for industrial water users. This price is much lower than most other Canadian provinces including Nova Scotia’s CAD$145.95 and Ontario’s $503.71 per million liters of water. BC’s water pricing has been criticized as inequitable, environmentally damaging and unsustainable overall. Water prices are currently believed to be too low to encourage the conservation of water and do not properly protect communities in times of drought. The current paradigm disproportionately benefits industrial groundwater users at the expense of the province’s water security. The provincial government in BC has continually pushed off this issue and blamed the trade agreement NAFTA as a barrier to raising their water prices.

The Pacific Water Research Centre and Ban the Bottle recognize that water is a human right, and the bottled water industry in Canada undermines the achievement of this right. Bottled water companies’ draw on local groundwater supply is a longstanding issue. Research highlights evidence of this happening locally, and across Canada. As recently as 2018, communities in Canada have been living under water shortages while Nestlé (Nestlé, an industrial water user, operates the largest water bottling plant in BC) takes water from the same areas. Multiple reports and news articles cite that Nestlé has continued to draw water away from communities such as Six Nations of the Grand River Indigenous reserve in Ontario while they are experiencing shortages or boil water advisories. Indigenous communities near Kawkawa Lake in British Columbia are forced to restrict their water during droughts, but Nestlé is allowed to continue extracting at a constant rate.

Ban the Bottle members welcoming attendees to a documentary screening in March 2020. Credit: Ryan De Jong

These issues are the motivation for Ban the Bottle’s persistent efforts. This group of students has had numerous achievements over their 2 years of action at SFU. They have built relationships with SFU administration and the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), hosted public events, launched petitions and provided guidance on various water-related actions at the university. Their perserverance to phase out bottled water contributed to the creation of SFU’s Re-use for Good Initiative.

Re-use for Good is an initiative led by the SFU Sustainability Office and Ancillary Services to implement and promote reusable alternatives to single-use plastics and disposable products (SUPPs) across SFU. This action has four main elements: 

  1. Improve campus infrastructure for reusables,

  2. Provide the community with more reusable alternatives,

  3. Raising awareness about the impacts of single-use plastics and products,

  4. Reducing unnecessary single-use plastics and other disposables on all campuses.

Re-use for Good is led by a taskforce that includes Ban the Bottle club members. Their place at the table provides feedback from a student perspective and advocates for a ban on bottled water sales. The initiative is currently in its second phase which includes phasing out plastic bottles from vending machines and dining locations. The club members have also consulted with Facilities Services on the implementation of additional water bottle refill stations across campuses to ensure equal access to high-quality tap water. This is in support of the goal to improve campus infrastructure for reusables.

Ban the Bottle will not stop their work once bottled water has been eradicated from SFU campuses. They are committed to bringing water security to the forefront of all sustainability decisions at SFU. To learn more about the club and stay up to date, follow their Facebook and Instagram pages. To join the club or ask questions, contact them at

Follow along with the PWRC on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to learn more and stay up to date with our activities. 

We respectfully acknowledge that the PWRC operates on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.


Azoulay, D., Villa, P., Arellano, Y., Gordon, M., Moon, D., Miller, K., & Thompson, K. (2019). Plastic and health: The hidden costs of a plastic planet. Retrieved from

CBC News (2017, June 8). Ontario confirms bottled water companies to pay more as of August 1. CBC News.Retrieved from

Environment Act: Fees Regulations. (2015). Province of Nova Scotia, 8A(1)(a). Retrieved from Province of Nova Scotia website:

Mendez, A., Masse, A., Lindsay, N., & Payment, R. (2019). Ban the Bottle SFU: 401 student project report. Retrieved from

SFU (n.d.). Drinking water reporting. Retrieved from