Minnesota's College of St. Benedict used to like bottled water enough to affix its logo to the plastic and hand it out at alumni events. Macalester College did the same.
But bottled water isn't welcome anymore.
This fall, the Minnesota schools are joining a national movement to ban disposable Dasani and its ilk from campus cafeterias and admissions offices. St. Ben's recently became the ninth college in the nation to ban the sale and purchase of plain bottled water on campus.
These campus bans are part of a broader eco-unease with the $11-billion U.S. bottled water industry. Dozens of cities, including San Francisco and New York, have banned bottles of water from being bought with city money. Others have considered banning it from being sold within city limits.
For the College of St. Benedict, the decision was based as much on Catholic Benedictine values as environmental concerns.
"Most people jump right to the environment," said Judy Purman, director of sustainability. "More importantly, though, I think it's the view that access to water is a basic human right. The institution doesn't feel it's right to profit from the sale of something that's a basic human right."
Bans can be slippery, though. Sometimes they violate colleges' lucrative contracts with beverage companies. They might inadvertently push students toward the vending machines' sugary options. Or, especially in rural areas, students might balk at the taste of the tap water.
In the 1990s, bottled water was seen as "a healthy alternative to pop and sugared drinks," recalls Suzanne Savanick Hansen, Macalester's sustainability manager. Even after Macalester students soured on it, the college handed it out at faculty luncheons and alumni events.
The staff organizing reunions "decided to stop," Savanick Hansen said. "Enough alumni were saying, 'Why are you serving bottled water?"'
The U.S. bottled water market was 8.75 billion gallons big in 2010, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. The U.S. population consumed 28.3 gallons per capita that year -- up from 16.2 gallons in 1999 but down from a 29-gallon high in 2007.
Bottled water is "much more energy-intensive than the production of public drinking water," according to a 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office. Once drained, 76.5 percent of plastic water bottles in the nation are thrown away. The report also found that FDA protections for bottled water are often less stringent than those for tap water.
The bottled water industry argues that bottled water beats other packaged beverages -- both for the environment and for people's health. Bottled water has "the lightest environmental footprint of all packaged beverages," according to the International Bottled Water Association, and, unlike soda and juice, is sugar and calorie-free.
"If you remove bottled water as a beverage choice, people do not automatically then choose another source of water," said Chris Hogan, spokesman for the association. "Chances are, they grab a bottle of high-calorie soda."
(Contact Jenna Ross at jross @startribune.com. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com.)