Photo caption: Andrew Solomon, operations manager in Blugold Dining by Sodexo, says the switch to aluminum water containers at Blugold Dining locations on campus — including Davies Marketplace and Hilltop Center — takes effect at the start of fall semester.
Plastic water bottles have been replaced with aluminum cans in University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Blugold Dining facilities as part of the university’s ongoing sustainability initiative.
The change at Blugold Dining locations on campus — including Davies Marketplace and Hilltop Center — is taking effect at the start of fall semester, says Andrew Solomon, operations manager in Blugold Dining by Sodexo. The 16-ounce aluminum cans will replace similar-sized plastic bottles that are included as an option in students’ block meal plans.
Based on data from the last academic year, Solomon estimates the transition to aluminum cans means that 84,000 fewer plastic water bottles will be used this year.
“Our hope is the campus community will enjoy this offering and support the university’s sustainability initiative,” Solomon says.
The idea for the switch was born at a vendor show last year when Solomon noticed a company that provided water in aluminum packaging. After examining the environmental benefits of transitioning away from plastic water bottles, Blugold Dining decided it was the right move for the environmentally conscious university.
Lily Strehlow, UW-Eau Claire’s sustainability coordinator, says she’s excited to see Blugold Dining transition to water in cans to reduce the amount of single-use plastics on campus. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that aluminum water containers are recycled about 50% of the time compared to a 30% rate for plastic bottles, Strehlow says.
Students also can fill reusable bottles with soda or water at Blugold Dining sites, another environmentally friendly option, Strehlow says.
Dr. James Boulter, professor and chair of the public health and environmental studies department, is enthusiastic about the impetus behind the change, and is interested in studying it in more detail. Boulter has discussed with Solomon the possibility of conducting a quantitative life-cycle assessment to measure the energy and climate impacts of the change, such as transportation and the relative recycling rates for aluminum and plastic.
Dr. Matthew Jewell, professor of materials science and biomedical engineering, has agreed to provide the sophisticated software necessary for the analysis to help determine the sustainable impact of the change. Boulter says he is excited to integrate the study into his teaching this semester.
“The collaborative research on the carbon impacts distinctly tied to UWEC’s water bottle production, shipping and disposal in either plastic or metal containers has a real-world impact,” Strehlow says. “It will allow us to truly understand which option releases the least carbon during its lifecycle, helping us determine if we should prioritize keeping plastic water bottles as an option or if metal is the way to go.”
Vending machines in some parts of campus will continue to offer plastic water bottles, and one-liter SmartWater bottles will be available because of high demand for the bottle size.