Peter Buckland wants to ask Penn State students one question: Why are you paying for something that's free?
As a member of the Penn State student group 3E-COE, Buckland, along with Alexandra D'Urso (graduate-curriculum and educational instruction) and several faculty advisers, is urging university administrators to impose a ban against water bottles being sold and used on campus.
Their main objection is the bottles' impact on the environment and the economic costs that come from delivering, buying and recycling the bottles.
"The bottled water industry has convinced the public that bottled water is safer," D'Urso said. "However, that isn't necessarily true because no one tests bottled water, whereas tap water has to meet constant and very stringent policies to be distributed to the public."
Buckland (graduate-educational theory and policy) hasn't used a water bottle in two years. For him, it's "stupid" to pay $1.25 for a "natural resource" he can get for free -- and it's an environmental decision, too.
After the group organized a rally in front of Old Main in December to deliver a letter outlining its concerns to Penn State President Graham Spainer, members have been meeting regularly with university representatives, conducting research and even participating in national conferences.
Last Friday, D'Urso participated in a phone conference organized by Washington University in St. Louis.
That campus is an inspiration for 3E-COE -- the university successfully implemented a water bottle ban in 2009. The group hopes to do the same thing at Penn State, but she recognizes how much of a challenge that will be.
For 3E-COE adviser and 27-year education professor Madhu Prakash, the water bottle "trend" is recent. She argues water should never be bought and sold and America's fascination with the bottles is "our new disease."
"Can you imagine if we all bought and began carrying our own little oxygen tanks for air?" Prakash said. "It's the same thing. We need to stop and think, 'What the hell are we doing?' "
Associate Dean for Teacher Education Jacqueline Edmondson, also a adviser, agreed.
"It has become so much a part of our culture, and we are going to have to pay for it eventually," Edmondson said.
Buckland doesn't want to have to wait for that day. Every time he sees a student bring a new bottle of water to every class, he is encouraged to continue working on the issue.
"Penn State has a really good environmental recycling program," he said. "By using the bottles, we are a part of the problem."
For Prakash, ending the use of the bottles has become her goal. If she could do one thing for the rest of her life, she knows what it would be: "making Penn State the No. 1 green campus."
"Could you imagine if 40,000 students stopped using water bottles?" she asked. "It would be the most amazing thing. It would make Penn State a leader and make the world a better place."