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Plastic Bottled Beverages Still Offered On Campus

In spite of the successful campaign to phase out single-use water bottles, Humboldt State has yet to remove plastic bottled beverages from campus

Almost 10 years have come and gone since Humboldt State University took back the tap and did away with single-use water bottles on campus.

Overall HSU is known to lead the way in sustainability across the California State University system. In spite of being further ahead in the sustainability game than most campuses, HSU still offers a variety of beverages for sale packaged in single-use plastic.

HSU Dining Services Director Ron Rudebock said they have gotten a fair number of comments over the last couple of years regarding plastic products and on phasing out plastics completely.

“We have been working with vendors to obtain their products in a reusable or compostable or recyclable package and vendors are changing their package materials,” Rudebock said.

The California State University system passed an anti single-use plastic policy in December 2018.

Four of the five campus responsibilities listed under the policy have set deadlines.

The first is the elimination of single-use plastic water bottles by Jan. 1, 2023. HSU met this requirement in 2011. The second is the elimination of plastic straws no later than Jan. 1, 2019. HSU eliminated plastic straws during the fall 2017 semester.

The third responsibility listed, also set for January of this year, was the elimination of single-use plastic carryout bags. HSU stopped using plastic bags back in March 2014. The fourth deadline, and last with a time requirement, was the elimination of single-use polystyrene (e.g. STYROFOAM™) food service items no later than Jan. 1, 2021. HSU eliminated Styrofoam to-go containers over 10 years ago and the campus is working to eliminate it in any pre-packaged items.

The final goal of replacing single-use plastic items with materials that are reusable, locally compostable and/or recyclable doesn’t list a specific deadline.

A variety of some of the single-use plastic bottled beverages offered. According to Rudebock, much of the decision to continue to sell single-use plastic drinks is because of consumer choice. | Photo by Megan Bender

Rudebock said this specific change is a challenge. The Depot, the College Creek Marketplace, the Cupboard and vending machines still offer plastic bottled beverages on campus.

“We would like to see a faster adaption but with this guideline having no deadline and with the current collapse in the recycling market I do not see this becoming feasible in the next year,” Rudebock said.

Dining services has made some efforts in providing more glass or aluminum options. The J, for example, has a beverage cooler that is all aluminum and glass, has eliminated single use plastic containers and has single-use packaging that is compostable or recyclable.

However, other locations haven’t been able to make the same change as effectively because of the demand for products that happen to also be in plastic bottles.

“We’ve been working with a lot of our vendors and pushing, trying to get more either glass or aluminum containers.” he said.

Rudebock said Dining Services also goes out of their way to order aluminum and glass alternatives whenever possible from specific companies and brands like Coke or Pepsi.

“It kind of comes down to consumer’s choice,” he said. “Consumers can help by purchasing products that are in reusable, compostable or recyclable packaging and not requesting products that are not in reusable, compostable or recyclable packaging.”

Students have pushed back against the university in the past, questioning its dedication to environmental responsibility over their business ties with PepsiCo.

As reported in the Lumberjack and the North Coast Journal, in 2017 HSU made efforts to meet student’s demands to closer align with its dedication to social, economic and environmental issues by re-evaluating a 40-year-long partnership with PepsiCo.

Under the contract PepsiCo funded HSU with around $58,000 worth of athletic scholarships in exchange for pouring rights. Pouring rights allowed PepsiCo to reserve 80% of HSU shelf space for their products.

Students also made the argument the set up was not fair to local businesses.

In spite of being in a budget deficit and the loss of scholarship funding, HSU did not renew the pouring rights contract and let it expire at the end of June 2017.

HSU was the first California public university and third national public university to phase out water bottles.

The University Center and Dining Services stepped into to help with some of the lost resources.

Rudebock said they managed to fund a majority of the lost scholarship money but leaves the decision of how the scholarships are dispersed up to the school. This way the UC and Dining Services are not directly funding athletics or any specific department.

The university still does business with PepsiCo but under different rebate-based agreements. Dining services also stopped carrying Aquafina water bottles, a brand owned by PepsiCo as a result of the nationally recognized Take Back the Tap campaign.

Under the Waste Reduction & Resource Awareness Program, students began efforts to Take Back the Tap at HSU starting in 2009. The student lead group and Dining Services worked to phase out the sale of single-use water bottles in 2011 as is the primary focus of the campaign.

As a result, HSU became the first California public university and third national public university to phase out water bottles. Dining Services initially explored an alternative by offering boxed water.

“At first we thought they were upset with the plastic water bottles, but they said ‘No no, just the water,’” Rudebock said. “It was more about the idea of selling packaged water.”

Before HSU removed water bottles on campus, TBTT calculated that HSU’s annual bottled water demand “required approximately 43 barrels of oil per academic year” and in turn was “releasing 35,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

HSU now owns two Hydration Stations and has 16 water fill stations on campus.

Environmental Science & Management Professor James Graham and his geospatial students created an interactive map of HSU that includes where to find water fill stations on-campus as well as other resources.

The locations of all water stations on HSU’s campus according to the Sustainability project. These locations include the two Hydration Stations.

Sustainability Director Morgan King said Facilities Management worked with students help create the map.

“We worked with [Graham’s] students to develop layers for sustainability attributes,” King said. “Including water filling station locations, bike parking locations, recycling and compost bin locations.”

Anyone can access the map by visiting HSU’s sustainability website. The map key is listed in a drop down menu that offers different types of resources on campus. Under the sustainability option, users can check the box of the information they’re looking for.

Rudebock said Dining Services remains attentive to the needs of the students and the possibility of selling less plastic-bottled products.

“Every journey begins with a step,” Rudebock said. “The less plastic containers that students buy helps change the need for that product.”


The California State University system’s single-use plastic policy passed in December 2018 includes four policy changes that have deadlines, but the fifth and final goal of the policy doesn’t list a deadline.

  • Eliminate single-use plastic water bottles by January 1, 2023. HSU has already met this requirement as of 2011.
  • Eliminate plastic straws no later than January 1, 2019. HSU eliminated plastic straws during the fall 2017 semester.
  • Eliminate single-use plastic carryout bags no later than January 1, 2019. HSU eliminated plastic bags in March 2014.
  • Eliminate single-use polystyrene (e.g. STYROFOAM™) food service items no later than January 1, 2021. HSU eliminated Styrofoam to-go containers over 10 years ago and are working to eliminate it in any pre-packaged item
  • Replace single-use plastic items with materials that are reusable, locally compostable and/or recyclable.

To find out more about HSU’s Zero-Waste Initiatives, WRRAP and TBTT visit the WRRAP homepage.

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