October 1, 2008

Prof Challenges Univ. To Limit Use of Bottles

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Sparked by recent debate over bottled water and its environmental implications, Prof. James Quest ’56, the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the School of Hotel Administration has devised a competition to encourage students to look for alternatives to bottled water.
The objective of Quest’s H2O Competition is “to invent the best concept for finding a solution to the multi-faceted issue of U.S. consumption of bottled water and its resultant impact on the environment.”
While environmentalists are opposed to the amount of petroleum that goes into the production and transport of bottled water, Quest emphasized that the debate over bottled water extends beyond environmental implications.[img_assist|nid=32229|title=Bottling blues|desc=Bottles of water are sold on campus at various dining facilities such as the Statler Terrace, shown above.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“I’m not an environmentalist,” Quest said. “I’m socially responsible.”
Quest noted that bottled water is seen as essential in certain situations — such as athletics and when traveling. However, people often times do not recycle plastic bottles, adding to the problems with bottled water consumption.
According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States are not recycled.
Yana Bushoy ’10, president of Hotelie Entrepreneurs, which Quest advises, is working with Quest on publicizing the competition.
“Bottled water is considered a staple amenity within the hotel industry. It is seen in every restaurant and hotel room,” Bushoy explained. “There is controversy about their impact on the environment, recycling, water purity and a whole list of others.”
The Beverage Marketing Corporation estimates that the average American consumes 29 gallons of bottled water per year. In 2007 the bottled water companies earned $12 billion in revenue from 8.8 billion gallons of water sold.
Quest and the Hotelie Entrepreneurs acknowledge the relationship between the hospitality industry and bottled water, both hope that the competition reaches a wide array of people on campus.
“This competition is interdisciplinary, and if we get input across campus we could come up with much better ideas,” Quest said.
“We think that the more diverse teams are, ones that have an engineer, a Hotelie and a law student, for example, will be the most successful as they will be able to address all sorts of issues than can come up,” Bushoy said.
Quest emphasized that it is important for those competing in the competition to finally find a working alternative to water bottles, and that there are many ways to attack the problem.
“The solution may be having to change the whole part of one thing. Somewhere out there, there is a solution to a plastic bottle. Maybe one that dissolves to get rid of itself. But you are still having to ship the water, so the bottle is just one part of the problem,” Quest said.
The Society for Natural Resources Conservation has been working on a campus-wide campaign to reduce the consumption of bottled water, in conjuncture with a plastic reduction campaign. One solution that the SNRC has been working on is a bill in New York that would encourage recycling.
Rebecca Guarino ’11, the secretary of the SNRC, believes the problem can be solved through recycling.
“I am a firm believer that the United States and New York State in particular would benefit from a new and improved bottle bill that would put a [cash] deposit on plastic water bottles. The Bigger Better Bottle Bill is being put to a vote again this legislative session and the SNRC is hoping to get students to show their support for the bill,” Guarino stated in an e-mail.
The bill has yet to pass in both of the houses of the state legislature.
A government-backed solution is one of the five solutions outlined by the competition. Other focus areas include legal, technical, consumer education and packaging.
The deadline for the first submission of this competition is Dec. 1 and the winner will be announced in April 2009. The first place prize is $3,000, and both the second and third place prizes are $1,500. The funding comes from the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship.
Quest believes that a truly innovative idea could be implemented throughout the industry in the future.
“Bottled water people could be interested in investing in an idea because they are feeling the hit,” Quest said. “Individual companies may try individual solutions but hopefully an idea will come up that will be good for the industry — good for all of us.”