University College London Union

Water Should Be Free!

We believe that the staff and students at UCL should have free and easy access to water. Last year nearly 160,000 plastic bottles of water were bought from shops and cafes on campus, sending heaps of waste to landfill and emitting masses of greenhouse gas emissions through manufacturing and transportation of materials. This number could be drastically reduced with better provision of water fountains and drinking water taps, which would not only benefit the environment, but would lessen the burden on your wallet!

We want your feedback & support! Please share this page and share your opinions with us. Where would you like to see more water fountains? What else can be done to provide easier access to water? Do you have any questions or comments? Contact UCLU People and Planet and we’ll get back to you.

Interested in getting more involved with environmental and ethical campaigns or want to know more about what UCLU is doing? Get in touch with the Ethics, Environment & Operations Officer and with UCLU People & Planet - we’d love to hear from you!

Policy summary/campaign goals

We believe, as does UCLU (see policy Water should be free (UP1213)), that water should be freely and easily accessible to all. At present the number of drinking fountains on the UCL campus is wholly insufficient, and those that are installed are very poorly sign-posted. This forces many UCL students, staff and visitors to waste money purchasing expensive bottled water and generate both unnecessary waste and carbon emissions (from production and transportation). With this in mind we are campaigning to improve access to free drinking water on the UCL campus and thus remove the need for the sale of bottled water on campus.

This campaign is mostly about good infrastructure: ensuring that UCL and UCLU provide good quality, well signposted drinking fountains in as many places as is practical on campus. We will also work to ensure students, staff and visitors to UCL are aware of the easy reductions in waste, carbon emissions and personal spending they can make by switching from bottled to tap water. This will be done through organising events and other publicity, raising awareness of related waste and environmental issues on campus.

After ensuring full access to tap water across campus we will consider asking UCLU and UCL to remove bottled water from sale in their shops and cafesWe feel this change would cause no harm to anyone, given that it would only take place once alternatives are in place. This would also be a strong way of the UCL community exhibiting its strong environmental and ethical principles.

Timeline + what has been done so far

  • Meeting with UCL estates, UCLU motion

    We began by meeting with relevant members of staff at UCL Union and in UCL’s estates department about the installation of additional drinking fountains. Both conversations went and continue to go well and it looks as if progress will be swift, with UCL estates already having conducted a preliminary survey of existing fountains and points new fountains can be installed in the future. We will be pushing for the installation of as many drinking fountains as is feasible and for clear signage of these fountains.

    The UCLU motion ‘Water should be free’, drafted by UCLU People & Planet, passed at UCLU Council on 27th November 2012. The reasoning behind and key messages of our campaign were strongly supported but there was strong debate over whether to remove bottled water from sale altogether. Nevertheless the motion passed in its entirety and is now official UCLU policy. You can find read the policy (UP1213)and answers to FAQ regarding the removal of bottled water from sale at the bottom of this page.

    On the week commencing 25th February we will officially launch the campaign with a week of events focussing on waste and water. Further details will be available closer to the time.

  • Student consultation details

    This campaign will be most successful if we push for drinking fountains where they are most needed, and no-one knows this better than the people that use UCL campus – you! To request a drinking fountain either e-mail us or post on our Facebook page. We will pass all requests on to UCL estates and ensure they install as many fountains as feasible.

    This campaign is driven by students and open for all. We would love to see you at one of our meetings – get in touch and we will put you on our mailing list!


“How is this fair/I have the freedom to buy what I like?”

We will not look to remove bottled water from sale on campus until sales are at a very low level. As such, we do not anticipate many people being affected by this. However this is our union running our own campaigns. We feel that us, together, choosing not to sell a product that is unnecessarily damaging to our environment and just plain unnecessary, is a legitimate and positive thing to do. If you feel different, all the usual union channels are available to you to voice your concern.

“Why not ban other bottled things like juice and soda?”

Unfortunately there is not a network of pipes providing low cost, high quality juice and soda nationwide. If there were, we would be pushing for better access to tap juice and tap soda too. As this is not possible, we feel our focus on water, where there is a genuine next-to-identical alternative, is very much justified. Furthermore, access to clean drinking water is a fundamental need whereas juice and soda are luxuries.

“Won’t this make people unhealthy because they’ll just buy juice and soda?”

With proper access to free tap water across campus we imagine that, on the contrary, people are likely to choose this free option instead of costly juice and soda.

“I can’t afford a reusable bottle, what should I do?”

If you can’t afford a reusable bottle it sounds like you would have even more trouble affording the regular purchase of bottled water! On a serious note, as part of this campaign we will be ensuring that reusable plastic bottles are available cheaply on campus, at a cost where you will be saving money after avoiding your second, third or fourth purchase of bottled water.

Relevant Policy: