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Students' project lead to change on campus

June 22, 2018

Students calculate the impacts of plastic water bottles


From classroom to campus policy, one group of engineering students' service leadership project made an environmental change on Foothill’s campus.

 Since the spring, the three KJ’s Café locations and Pacific Dining have not sold single-use plastic water bottles. The change on the campus was brought to the school’s attention via a student project from instructor Sarah Parikh’s Intro to Engineering classes last year.

  “The students have always taken on their projects with a large topic of their choice,” Parikh said. “The first couple years I had them look at assistive technology. A year ago, it shifted to sustainability projects.”

 A five-member group decided to focus their project on water after Parikh suggested it as a starting point. The group looked specifically at the water fountains on campus and single-use plastic bottled water.

 The group’s project centered around why students were buying bottled water instead of using a resource that’s free to them, according to Foothill student Michael Johansen. Through research the group found that students had a negative perception of the public water fountains, believing them to be unclean and containing lower quality water in comparison to bottled water.

 “A lot of us just assumed it was going to be gross,” Johansen said.

 To see if general comments about the school’s water fountains were true, the group bought drinking water test kits and ran the numbers for how much students spend in a year on bottled water. The results were shocking.

 “We were testing for lead, water hardness or bacteria,” Johansen said. “What we tested had no bacteria in it.”

 The group concluded the drinking quality of the water from the fountains was on par with that of bottled water and even better than some bottled water that was also tested. According to their research, a student could save $387 annually by skipping a daily bottled beverage.

  As a local and global steward, Foothill has stopped the selling of single-use plastic water bottles. Instead, students may use the water fountains, equipped with a fill station for reusable water bottles, or buy water sold in box containers or aluminum bottles. 

 “The projects at Foothill are more likely to be implemented quickly because we have that type of power on our campus,” Parikh said. “Students here are definitely heard.”