Sarah Sorenson ’11, right, runs a taste test between bottled water and tap water.

Colby says hello to Earth Day Friday. And goodbye to bottled water.

A three-year student-led campaign against the ubiquitous clear plastic containers culminates when remaining bottles are removed Friday from the shelves at the Colby Bookstore and the Spa, Colby’s on-campus snack bar. Sarah Sorenson ’11, who led the campaign called “Take Back the Tap,” announced that Colby’s athletic teams also agreed this week to forgo purchasing cases of bottled water for games and road trips beginning next semester.

Sorenson, president of the Colby Environmental Coalition (Enviroco), reported that the student organization already persuaded officials to virtually eliminate bottled water from catered events on campus, including meals, lectures, and meetings, and from campus-wide events such as commencement, reunion weekend, and orientation.

All together the efforts will have removed more than 10,000 bottles a year from the waste stream and will save thousands of dollars in purchase costs. “This is a great example where a student, working with faculty, staff, and the administration, can effect real change,” said Douglas Terp, Colby’s vice president for administration and chair of the College’s Environmental Advisory Group.

Alternatives introduced to replace bottled water on campus include pitchers of tap water at events, bulk containers, and reusable water bottles. The College has installed several new water stations, including fountains with spigots designed for filling water bottles.

“It’s kind of outrageous—all the oil it takes to produce plastic bottles and transport them around,” said Sorenson, a soft-spoken senior from San Diego. She characterized the campaign’s tactics not as pressuring anyone, but simply laying out the facts and arguments—environmental, economic, public health— against buying water in bottles. She ticks them off: carbon footprint; waste in landfills, ditches, and the Pacific garbage patch; spending up to five dollars for something that is essentially free from the tap.

TakeBackTheTap_webSorenson, an environmental studies major who won a prestigious Udall Scholarship for this year, attended an information session on the topic presented by Food & Water Watch in her first year on campus. Elected president of Enviroco, she decided to focus on the issue and see what the club could accomplish.

Three years ago, as a member of the Environmental Advisory Group, she proposed getting rid of bottled water on campus and was asked to produce some research on the topic. She did. And she began contacting people who could help. First, she partnered with Joe Klaus, assistant director of dining services, to remove single-serving water bottles from catered events. And every time she encountered bottled water at some subsequent event on campus, she kept going back. “Joe’s been great,” she said. “He chases them down.”

“She has put a lot of time an energy into this,” Terp said. “Once she got after Joe, he worked really hard to say ‘How can we do this?’ and come up with alternatives.”

Sorenson has taken broad interest in water issues, including controversial groundwater extraction in Maine by Nestle, and she’s working for passage of LD 1077, An Act To Enhance Public Participation in Decisions Relating to the Large-scale Extraction and Transportation of Water. She hopes to build a career in public policy addressing sustainable development of water resources, infrastructures, quality, and accessibility.

“Water is an important aspect of everything,” she said. “The UN declared a couple of years ago that it’s a basic human right.”